Where Does Movement Come From?

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

I’ve recently become fascinated with improvisation and have come to see our bodies as storehouses of past experiences and present realities: every movement made has history. I’ve also begun to meditate on the birth of movement and the turning point that sets it as choreography. Moving in a certain way sparks old memories, evokes musical scores, and unearths emotions. I notice when I improvise, my body frequently returns to phrases and patterns I’ve danced many times. These become a movement template and even their slight variations continuously ingrain themselves in my muscle memory. There’s almost this sense of having to revisit the patterns to work them out. While there is comfort in predicting the playing out of a known phrase of movement, it can be difficult to move away from the familiar. I’m intrigued by how we discover novel pathways, especially in the context of creating and performing dance for an audience.

Movement patterns become more apparent while watching the choreography of a dance work, and we seem to automatically recognise and categorise these sequences. We constantly try to make sense of dance using our instinct and ‘learned understanding’ of effective choreography. Having begun understanding the patterns within my own movement practice, I’m curious about other performers and their challenge of working through habitual patterns to find new movement. With this in mind, I spoke to Tahnun Ahmedy about his choreographic process and the persisting influence of his training in Kathak on his contemporary dance work today.

Tahnun’s programme note for Samrakshana, his solo at the FACETS choreography residency showing, drew me to his work. In the note, he speaks of restrictions, struggles, and his tools to overcome them. His work explores the reaction of his body and mind to imposed limitations. “We all experience blocks in our bodies and minds, which ultimately restricts our souls”, he says.

Tahnun Ahmedy's' Samrakshana at FACETS 2017PHOTO: Richa Bhavanam
Tahnun Ahmedy's' Samrakshana at FACETS 2017PHOTO: Richa Bhavanam

In his solo, Tahnun moves between Kathak and a fairly recognisable form of contemporary dance, which isn't always as mature in execution and at times comes across as diligently executed but self-conscious. It echoes his attempt to move beyond his own classical roots, which is clearly the origin point of his personal movement language. Though his limited training in contemporary dance poses some restrictions, his willingness to explore the form and new ideas is apparent. One of the recurring patterns of his work is the feet stomping from the Kathak vocabulary that contributes to a canvas of sound created by his feet and voice. It does take some time for the work to build a rhythmic base, but once the repetitions merge, they allow us to see slight variations that become their own sparse rhythm and open up different movement possibilities.

It is hard to ignore the strength and confidence of the more traditional Kathak phrases in the performance. Tahnun stays true to the precision of his training in Kathak in the rapid turns and rhythmic stomping. His absolute ownership of these Kathak sequences is comforting and emanates confidence and certainty. It makes me wonder whether the surety of his classical movement comes from his personal rigour or from the centuries-old tradition itself. Or perhaps contemporary dance is much younger and hasn't had the same years of incubation and honing in Bangladesh and in Tahnun's body. The discrepancy is clear. Although Tahnun sets out to avoid copying contemporary dance as it is known in the West, his work has moments of the virtuosic that are neither inherent to Kathak or his own personal language. He doesn’t want to follow a set technique of contemporary dance, so perhaps he inadvertently reaches for something that is known, which might present a hurdle in his future works.

While I’ve been fascinated with the starting point of movement as a going back to familiar patterns, deviations, extensions, and other permutations, it is interesting to hear Nina Hümpel, the director of the München Dance Festival, talk at one of the Biennial’s auxiliary events and offer another possibility. She says, “the most honest movement reveals itself when a dancer is most exhausted”. Her words resonate with me as I continue to ponder points of initiation in my own work and the works of my peers.

Dayita Nereyeth is a dancer and writer currently based in Bangalore. She enjoys performing, conducting research on the mind and movement, doodling, and watching cooking competitions.

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