We speak to EARS on Mumbai speaker Mandeep Raikhy, leading dance practitioner based in Delhi, best known for his works Inhabited Geometry (2010), a male ant has straight antennae (2013) and Queen Size (2016). Mandeep has been working as Managing Director at Gati Dance Forum since 2009.
Interview by Anisha Tiwary
Mandeep, in your view, how has contemporary dance evolved in India in the last 10 years?
I think the contemporary dance scene has grown in multiple ways. One, it has had a whole lot of young artists coming in with a very different set of questions – some around the traditional practices that they have been trained in; in pushing the boundaries of their forms, and some with regards to the relationship that the audience has with the performer; really challenging what performance is to the entire country. While others are making direct linkages to the social political environment through their performances. There’s been a whole lot of work around activism in the last ten years. So it has been quite wonderful because finally, the dance practices in the country have been able to look at identity, dissent and form in exciting ways. Before this, it wasn’t this way – though of course there have been landmark practitioners who have changed the way we’ve looked at dance over the years.
How do you think that this features in the global context?
I think contemporary dance is at different points around different parts of the world. In Europe, for example, a ceiling has been reached – around the kind of questions that are being asked, around the process, around the body and one now is really looking for (new) reference points. You can feel that it’s a bit stuck – it has been through all kinds of upheavals; taking choreography away from the body, making it a little more conceptual, and everything. So you can sense the standstill and it’s an exciting moment. In India, I feel like we’re beginning to generate a kind momentum now – through asking the questions that are now being asked…and that’s exciting too. We’re far away from hitting a ceiling.
Definitely. Even your piece Queen Size, makes a political comment, and moves beyond creative expression. What made you choreograph it?
A couple of years ago, the BJP government had just come into power, and about a year later there was a whole lot of upheaval with artists returning their awards as resistance – saying that the government must respond to these acts of violence towards these individuals, especially the minorities. I sensed this sort of discomfort – you could see that dance was in a way locked up with the institutions, with the State, in a way where it couldn’t really stand up against it. I think it has very much to do with patronage, the fact that dance has been supported mostly by the State, and also because dance by itself is linked very much to the national identity in this country – you know, at independence, dance became this sort of image of what India is, and it’s rich history, and it got locked up there, and the State kept it that way. In a way, therefore, it’s really hard for practitioners to speak up. I felt this desire for dance to become autonomous in some sense – in a way that it could be used to speak up. And that was my response with Queen Size.
Another challenge that dancers face today is spaces to perform at – venues, per say. What are your thoughts on this, what’s lacking and how could it get better?
The one thing about our field is that there are very few curated spaces for dance across the country – I can name a few but they’re not really accessible. Which means that mostly when dancers perform, they wait to be invited – where maybe the one and a half festivals in India would invite them over 2-3 years to perform, or they may not. They can also get their own money, hire an auditorium, ticket the event, and the ticketed event can never pay for the cost of the auditorium. But you could go down that route and do it once a year. So I also in a way (through Queen Size) responded to our performance ecology being full of commercial spaces, even though we have so many spaces that were set up by the government in the 70s and 80s. These spaces have ended up becoming commercial ventures under certain management. The artist, hence, has to choose to either do one show a year, or change the ecology. I really wanted to take it into my hands and say that I’m excited by the possibility of work that is more mobile, work that is dependent on the self – and not on hiring lights, equipment. I was also interested in taking work to settings where even theatre wouldn’t go. Because there are three to four hundred people in a city, typically, who visit theatres to watch contemporary dance – then how do you make your work more accessible? How do you change its context, and how do you begin to really take it to different kind of people – these are the questions that I’ve been dealing with. There are a whole lot of practitioners now who are dealing with the exact same thing. There has been an outburst of work that do not belong to the theatre any more – I think it’s also a collective response to our ecology. We have to take it into our hands.
Thanks Mandeep – lastly, what do you look forward to at EARS on Mumbai this year?
I’m interested in spaces where people come together to share where they’ve reached, as far as our ecology is concerned. I’m very excited to meet a whole lot of people from various parts of the world and know all that they’re thinking about!
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