FACETS Probably Needs An Additional Mentor

Playwright, theatre director, and performer Swar Thounaojam questions the political insularity of three works from the choreography residency.

In the majority of the synopses given by the FACETS 2017 choreographers, and in the performance of their works on stage, it is heartening to notice that the choreographers are attempting to respond to our increasingly complex and troubled worlds. So when emerging choreographers exhibit this nascent intent to speak to our contemporary realities but lack the lived experience or the deeper engagement with issues due to their class, race, caste, gender and other privileges that have insulated them, it’s critical for FACETS to facilitate a process where the choreographers can be introduced to alternative, progressive as well as radical discourses happening outside the rehearsal space. In the last few editions of  the Writing On Dance Laboratory, our conversations revolved around how the insularity of dancers and choreographers often results in sanitised or appropriative or just plain wrong works on stage that, unfortunately, don’t get rigorously examined by the dance community.

I look at three FACETS choreographers whose works exhibited less thoughtful attention to the worlds they were exploring:

Parth Bhardwaj's' Neck Of The Woods at FACETS 2017PHOTO: Richa Bhavanam

Parth Bhardwaj’s Neck Of The Woods :

Besides the reductive and representative choreography of a woman being assaulted on stage, the gestures and poses adopted by the male dancer characterised an assaulter who comes from an uneducated, working class, or rural background. It is a myth held by the middle class and upper middle class that assaulters/abusers cannot be men of their ilk. A myth that criminalises poor men and allows rich men to walk away from their crimes.

Sujay Saple's' Ghar ki Murgi at FACETS 2017PHOTO: Richa Bhavanam

Sujay Saple’s Ghar ki Murgi :

In a contemptuous takedown of the contemporary dance festival circuit, the choreographer announced he’s hired a bunch of janitors to be his dancers because he can’t afford professional dancers. Of course, they were all trained dancers play acting janitors to spoof the hallowed world of the dance festival circuit. So in order to make fun of posh dancers, we ended up watching a bunch of dancers caricaturing working class members of Bangalore who largely belong to the lower caste communities. There is a word for this. It is called punching down - to make a joke at the expense of the less powerful or more oppressed group.

Surabhi Jain's' Do You Have A Reservation? at FACETS 2017PHOTO: Richa Bhavanam

Surabhi Jain’s Do You Have A Reservation? :

When I first read the title of Surabhi Jain’s work in the FACETS brochure I thought, ‘Wow, a FACETS choreographer is going to talk about caste in her work’. The push-back from Dalit activists and scholars on social media has created a space for Dalit stories to emerge, forcing the mainstream media to report the rapes of Dalit women, institutional murders of Dalit scholars amongst other atrocities that Dalits face at the individual and community levels. Anti-caste conversations are happening at an unprecedented level, and with them come the polarising debates on reservation for marginalised communities. However, in the synopsis of her work and in an interview afterwards, Surabhi said that when she decided to use the word ‘reservation’ in her title, she never thought about anti-caste conversations and the ensuing debates on caste-based reservation. Her main idea hinged upon how people use reservation in different travel modes to secure a safe space so that co-travellers (especially travellers with no reservation) don’t intrude upon one’s space.  When I shared with her how the word reservation is more politically charged than being just a travel privilege, she confessed she never really thought through the import of the word.

Choreographers are extremely attentive to their craft and constantly challenge their own bodies as well as the bodies of their dancers to break internal conditioning. The language of the body is minutely probed, tested, studied, and improvised upon. When such choreographers attempt to speak to our realities, it is imperative that the issues they are exploring get as much rigorous attention as the bodies get. In FACETS 2017 it is very clear that the emerging choreographers are earnestly trying to interrogate their positions in the world. A mentor who could have guided them to critically engage with the history, politics, symbolism, culture, economy etc. of their positions would have made a significant difference and helped them add more nuance to their choreographic intents.

Swar Thounaojam is a playwright, theatre director, and performer. She was a participant in the 2011 and 2013 editions of the Writing on Dance Laboratory.

TABLE of Contents
The Biennial Issue: Part 1

In this first part of the Biennial Issue, participants in the Writing on Dance Laboratory at the Attakkalari India Biennial 2017 respond to performances they saw and discussions they had during the first few days of the festival.

ShowReel : R U Ready?
Darshan Manakkal

South Korea’s Second Nature Dance Company presented R U Ready?, choreographed by Kim Sunghan, at the Opening Night of the Attakkalari India Biennial 2017

ShowReel : 5 Colours
Darshan Manakkal

Gamblerz & Animation, two dance companies from South Korea, presented 5 Colours at the opening night of the Attakkalari India Biennial 2017

ShowReel : Ketima
Darshan Manakkal

Vuyani Dance Theatre from South Africa presented Ketima, choreographed by Gregory Maqoma, on Day 2 of the Attakkalari India Biennial 2017

ShowReel : Tordre (Wrought)
Darshan Manakkal

Rachid Ouramdane, choreographer and co-director of CCN2 – Centre choréographique national de Grenoble – presented Tordre (Wrought) on Day 3 of the Attakkalari India Biennial 2017

FACETS Probably Needs An Additional Mentor
Swar Thounaojam

Playwright, theatre director, and performer Swar Thounaojam questions the political insularity of three works from the choreography residency.

Where Does Movement Come From?
Dayita Nereyeth

Dancer and writer Dayita Nereyeth searches for the source of contemporary dance movement through her own practice and Tahnun Ahmedy’s solo work at the Biennial

Dancing Now (after Anita Cherian)
Ian Abbott

Dance writer and producer Ian Abbott re-authors Anita Cherian’s introduction to tiltpauseshift: Dance Ecologies In India

Show Us Some Moves: Small and Silly Dances
Dayita Nereyeth

Dancer and writer Dayita Nereyeth gets the Bangalore audience to move.

Annie & Lora (after Rachid Ouramdane)
Ian Abbott

An illustrative response to Tordre (Wrought) by CCN2 Grenoble, France.

Why Dance When You Can Speak, Why Think When You Can Sweep
Himalaya Gohel

Dance researcher and PhD Student Himalaya Gohel reviews a work from the FACETS Choreography Residency


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