Four Postcards to a Dancer from a Theatre Maker

Theatre maker Deepika Arwind writes to her dancer collaborators as part of “From somewhere in the middle”

In the last five years, as I’ve made plays and performances, I’ve been curious about movement, about the role it plays in my work. In the last couple of years, I’ve collaborated with dancers in my work and they’ve invited me to be part of theirs. I sense I am part of a crossover, a meeting of disciplines and practices. Here, I document fragments of my experiences with dancers through four postcards.

From 2011

I come from a world where we admire your rigour, your training and discipline, and are often envious of it. As someone who is not formally trained in theatre, who is threading her watching experiences with her doing of theatre, I have found the ways a dancer’s journey unfolds very different from my own.

Kashyap Murali

Sometimes, after a warmup that included quick rotations of wrists and ankles and gentle head-bobbing from side to side—all of which led to severe panting—us urban theatre practitioners say, “You should see a dancer’s warmup! This is nothing”.

A hobby-actor, once after a visit to Nrityagram said to me, “The problem with urban actors is that they will never know what sadhana is”. He wasn’t referring to himself.

From 2011-2012

It has been two years since the Adishakti Source of Performance Energy Workshop. Veenapani Chawla, who is a collection of epiphanies, speaks about everything on stage being text—an idea deeply ingrained in Adishakti’s work.

Lekha Naidu

I wrote my first play, and you came in to work with my actors. We discussed ‘embodiment’, an elusive idea at the heart of performance. You were interested in my actors’ untrained bodies and how they would embody characters. You worked with them to understand falls, focus, and fluidity of action.

That was the beginning of our relationship. We had entered each other’s spaces.

From 2013-2014

Theatre as a verb: that was perhaps my biggest learning through the time I spent working as a theatre practitioner—as actor, writer, and director. Theatre, I began to see, was a becoming, a happening. It was the unfurling code within a dialogue, the world of meaning around a gesture, the constant sense of movement even in the static.

From The Retreating World/Last Tuesday directed by Kirtana Kumar.

Some of the most exciting theatre was in works of dance—by Pina Bausch, Akram Khan, Hofesh Shechter, Padmini Chettur—works that used movement as text, movement that spoke to itself, that examined form through form.

Now we were meeting more often in rehearsal rooms. I was bruised from your classes but I was invigorated by our conversations. What were the possibilities of us finding a way to meet? To really meet. Not just for you to speak and for me to move, but for us to dialogue through our practices.

Traditional forms have always used body, rhythm, and text in continuum. We had to — still have to — find ways to meet.


After a few weeks at the Ammanur Chachu Chakyar Smakara Gurukulam, receiving very brief training in some aspects of Koodiyattam—a form through which the actor can understand among other things, gaze, weight, presence—I began working on a short work, A Brief History of Your Hair. Two of you and I met. The lines blurred. We said our first words to each other.

Deepika Arwind

The rest of the year was spent expanding the piece to a full-length piece, negotiating our practices, our time, the ways in which we work. I worked with a delightful cast of actors and you dancers, day after day, for five months, asked critical questions about process to each other. Our findings were sometimes inconclusive, our explorations sometimes without result, but our eyes looked inward at our practices and outward, at each other’s.

This year, we’ve continued to talk. You’ve stepped into my solo rehearsal several times, simply making me walk, helping me with my cartwheels or aligning my spine to become a cat’s. I work with you as an actor in your work, as you negotiate my actor’s body, and my annoying tendency to do impressions. We will train together, ask more questions of ourselves and of each other, and make work in the spaces we make for ourselves.

Deepika Arwind is a Bangalore-based actor, writer and director. Her works include Nobody Sleeps Alone (nominated for The Hindu Metroplus Playwrights' Award 2013), A Brief History of Your Hair (supported by India Foundation for the Arts, The New Voices Arts Project, and Lshva Studio), and No Rest in the Kingdom (produced by Sandbox Collective and supported by Shoonya Centre for Art and Somatic Practices).

TABLE of Contents

American choreographer Remy Charlip, when he could not choreograph on a dancer in person, invented his seminal “Air Mail Dances”. He sent dancers postcards with drawings of different poses, but how those poses connected and coalesced into a dance was left to the dancers’ physical replies.

Such connections between dance and the epistolary are not hard to find. There are the back-and-forth musical sequences between Bollywood lovers, the forever complicated triangle between Radha, Krishna, and the sakhi of classical dance. And there are also real correspondences that give us insight into particular choreographies, processes, and historical developments. European travellers writing home about Nautch girls. Merce Cunnigham and John Cage on creating by chance. Or letters to the editors of newspapers arguing for and against the dances of devadasis.

Ligament’s first 2017 issue looks at the epistolary impulses— exchanges of secrets, loves, epiphanies, and feuds—in different dances. The issue also reframes letter, postcard, and email writing as a potentially more intimate and immediate way to write about and respond to dance.

In a string of correspondence between Karthika Nair and Tishani Doshi published in Granta (130: April 2015), Nair writes that dance is like “calligraphy on water, the cat’s paw ripple that vanishes even as it is created, but one that marks the landscape in that act of evanescence”. The epistolary shares this transience. Although preservable in the receiver’s archive, a letter, once it is written and sent (maybe even to get lost along the way), ceases to be for the one who wrote it.

Return to Sender
The Indian Posts and Telegraph Department

Indian dance through postage stamps

Dear Bangalore,
Fabien Prioville

Fabien Prioville’s recent site-specific work with Attakkalari diploma students

Joshua Sailo

Choreographer Joshua Sailo sends movement from a historic site.

Friends with Benefits
Ranjana Dave

Dancer Ranjana Dave ponders Classical love in the Digital Age

It’s in Your Hands
Sujay Saple

FACETS resident Sujay Saple writes a postcard to himself as part of “From somewhere in the middle”

Four Postcards to a Dancer from a Theatre Maker
Deepika Arwind

Theatre maker Deepika Arwind writes to her dancer collaborators as part of “From somewhere in the middle”

Update 1: 2017
Poorna Swami

A letter from dancer Poorna Swami’s correspondence

Signed, Sealed, Delivered
Samar Grewal/Parth Bhardwaj and Marcel Zaes/Shabari Rao

Two composers and two dancers write letters in sound and movement


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