A Different Genre of Politics

Surjit Nongmeikapam talks about his current projects, as a part of "From somewhere in the middle".

“Right now I am making a new piece called Folktale. We showed it at PECDA. But we are still going to develop it. And this piece is not on any political issue. It’s very simple. I am working with a prop, a lemon. And we’re trying to define the characteristics of lemon. A lemon has characteristics like people also have different characters. Even though I am Surjit, I am not one character. So in the same way, I took up the lemon to tell its characteristics in different ways. We tried to explore movement from each of these individual characteristics—how they affect our bodies when we touch, when we drink, when we absorb. I named it Folktale because we are telling a story about a lemon.

At the same time, I am also working with Takao Kawaguchi, a senior artist from Tokyo. I worked with him in 2015, in June. In November we are going to create a new piece. We don’t have a definite idea of how we will work. But we are trying to bring together our individual styles of working. It’s a duet. I have some rough ideas. We might do some installation work with props because Takao san is also very fond of props. And I have some ideas for sound, to make live music with the props. It will be an experimental way of working, not theoretical or thematic.

I think the prop is my environment, it is part of my life. Props move with you, they are not separate, they are living things for me. Every time you dance with a prop, you cannot cheat it—you have to be very aware of the prop. If you’re dancing with another human being and you make a mistake, the other dancer can react in a different way. But when you dance with a prop, if you make a mistake, it will show that you made a mistake. The prop is not going to have my back; I am the one carrying it.

In Nerves, most of the dancers were not trained. So to give them impulse, I gave them props. If you have an object in your hand, you can connect with it, and it can affect your whole body. Also, props in that piece were about reflecting life in Manipur. We used bamboo to describe where we come from. The boots are also common here because of the military control. There many associations with boots—it’s easy to feel many things. When the dancers saw the boots they got more intention, they got more into their bodies, rather than staying in their imaginations. For me the five dancers didn’t have fixed characters, just like the props. For me they are more symbolic.

In the audience, I am not targeting only intellectual people, but also ‘normal’ people. I am looking for an audience that can understand in a broad way. So using those props helped. But even though I used props in this piece, maybe next time I won’t use any.

In Manipur we don’t have many contemporary dancers; most are classical dancers. Their bodies are already classical—they are not organic. That’s why, in Nerves, I didn’t want to use people who had trained from childhood. Because I was looking for normal people to view the piece, it was better to use normal people in the dance, too. I was trying to see what their organic bodies can express, not by saying whether they are good dancers, but by how their moving shows their feelings and frustrations. I was also experimenting with these bodies because they are all of young people…some are hip hop dancers. But they had a hard time in this piece because they didn’t know what they were doing, what the piece was about, why they were moving. I wanted to experiment with how their characters changed as they explored these frustrations from inside their bodies.

But because we are from Manipur—we are born here, we are rooted here—this is in our bodies. I can’t deny it. When we do a movement, you see some bit of Manipur. Our living style, eating style, walking style is different. While I didn’t consciously use Thang Tha, it’s in our bodies, so some martial art came into the piece. Still, we didn’t use it any typical form. For me it was more like contact improvisation, especially when I created the torture sequence.

There’s always politics. Without politics there’d be nothing. Politics is everywhere. As I grow up, my mind changes. So when I create something, I always try to go into different ways of portraying myself. For instance, I don’t always work on a stage or proscenium. Sometimes I go outdoors. I want to work in a museum. There is always a political way.

Even love, relationships, are a kind of politics. What we talk about the government is not the only politics. Talking about my relationship, my family, is also a politics. So for me, everything is politics. It’s only about how you see the politics, and also different kinds of politics. It’s a genre…and I want to try a different genre of politics. Not only the military, not only the environmental, not only about a way of life. There’s also the politics of myself. Whatever comes to me as I grow up, whatever I face, I try to portray that in my work.”

As told to Poorna Swami

Surjit Nongmeikapam (Bonbon) was born in Manipur. He studied B.A. Choreography and has worked with the Natya Stem Dance Kampni and Natya Maya, Bangalore as a contemporary dancer and traditional dancer. Bonbon’s works have toured Switzerland, France, Singapore, Belgium, Japan, USA, Germany, Spain, Portugal, UK, and other countries. He is the Managing Director of Nachom Arts Foundation and the winner of the 2014 and 2016 PECDA awards.

TABLE of Contents
Dissent and Content

In October of this year, during its annual IGNITE! dance festival, Gati Dance Forum launched the much-awaited Tilt. Pause. Shift: Dance Ecologies in India. The book’s various essays consider how we in India might generate a localised, yet internationally-aware, vocabulary to discuss, describe, and push back against the various modes of contemporary dance practice in this country. The first of its kind, the book took three years to complete and anchored IGNITE!’s three-day conference themed Form. Identity. Dissent. The conference, with panels that ranged from “Activism and Sexuality in Performance” to “Pedagogical Modes of Transmission Emerging from Classical Dance”, raised many questions that run through the book: What is contemporary dance? How does it, or should it, speak to a classical or colonial past? How can it negotiate its present? What aesthetic form must that present take?

These questions, along with various performance works (such as Sujata Goel’s Dancing Girl, Daniel Kok’s Cheerleader of Europe, and Preethi Athreya’s Conditions of Carriage - The Jumping Project) that formed IGNITE! 2016’s lineup have helped shape Ligament’s November 2016 issue.

Through interview, essay, poetry, and photography collected from India, Pakistan, and Sri Lanka, this issue attempts to unravel the aesthetics and politics that surround South Asian contemporary dance and its makers.

Deconstructing Intimacy: In conversation with Mandeep Raikhy
Mandeep Raikhy

Choreographer Mandeep Raikhy speaks with Ranjana Dave about his latest work, Queen-size.

It’s Not My Revolution If I Can’t Dance To It
Richa Bhavanam/ Naomi Kundu

Photo Essay

A Different Genre of Politics
Surjit Nongmeikapam

Surjit Nongmeikapam talks about his current projects, as a part of "From somewhere in the middle"

Nationalism and Dance: In conversation with Sadanand Menon
Sadanand Menon

Sadanand Menon, art critic and photographer, speaks with Ligament’s Editor, Poorna Swami, on the history of dance in India and the history of India itself.

Jasmine and Pepper
Karthika Nair

A Poem By Karthika Nair

Let us change the world! : Slogan-raising bodies in the JNU student protest
Meghna Bhardwaj

Meghna Bhardwaj, dancer and PhD scholar at JNU, reflects on ‘spirals’ and Euphoria in the JNU protest.

A Love Letter to Karachi: Joshinder Chaggar’s Contemporary Dance Drama
Zoha Husain

Zoha Husain responds to Joshinder Chaggar’s recent Karachi performance

Methods of Defiance
Venrui Perera

Choreographer Venuri Perera discusses dissent, dance, and community with Asim Siddiqui, as a part of "From somewhere in the middle"

Writing On Dance Laboratory - Open Call

03-12 February, 2017 : 10 AM to 4 PM
(this does not include evening performances)


To pick up and run with a magazine that has had another life is never easy. There are those conflicting desires to find close continuity and to just scrap it all and start anew. Ligament 2016-17 reemerges from a half-way point. We want to build on the investigations and insights of the magazine’s past contributors and also find ways to say what they perhaps had wanted to say but could not, or forgot to, in that moment.

Ligament was founded to facilitate the articulation of an evolving language that encompasses the impulses of contemporary dance. The idea of “contemporary” is inherently bound to time, to a sense of history, rather multiple histories unfolding. In its 2016-17 iteration, we hope that Ligament can grapple with the idea of how dance might hold a place in-step with the patterns of active and forming histories, rather than remaining a canonised and pondered response to a bygone world. We’d like to embrace the immediacy of “contemporary”, and invite contributions from dancers, choreographers, arts practitioners, scholars, audience members, readers. In this way, we hope to reach for the intimacies, resistances, and fragilities that permeate the developing field of South Asian contemporary dance.

Articulating a medium as visceral, visual, and ephemeral as dance requires making connections to methods of thought and critique that lie outside evaluative language. So for Ligament 2016-17 we welcome, of course, the critical essay, but also audio, photographs, ekphrastic poems, interviews, and hybrid media of various kinds that might speak to us about dance, carefully and proximately. Like the anatomical connective tissue for which it is named, Ligament, we hope, can help us locate dance in tandem with the many bodies that produce and encapsulate it.

To those who find themselves here for the first time, welcome. And those whom we have met before, we are glad you are back.

—Poorna Swami, Editor

Get in touch with us at ligament@attakkalari.org