Kin: Shape-shifting with Dance

First published in The Hindu, November 10, 2016

Sanjukta Sinha dwells on belonging and relationships in Kin , her new contemporary Kathak production


“My name represents togetherness. Through dance, I want to bring people together and work in collaboration. Therefore, Kin is all about who I am,” says Sanjukta Sinha, who is in the city to perform her Kathak production as part of the NCPA Contemporary Dance Season.

Sinha, who studies and works in Ahmedabad with pioneering Kathak choreographer Kumudini Lakhia, says Kin is a new evening-length suite of three stylistically distinct performances choreographed especially for her.

As a dance form, Kathak enjoys a particular currency in the international contemporary dance circuit. It is prominent in the works of Akram Khan, Aditi Mangaldas and Aakash Odedra.

Kin’s dramaturge, Farooq Chaudhry, has worked closely with many of these artists, focusing on the production and presentation of their work. As his protégé, Sinha is the latest to hop onto the bandwagon.

Going solo

Kin began as an idea when Sinha performed a Kathak solo in Liverpool some years ago. Seeing new possibilities of a dance language in the way she moved, Chaudhry approached her and asked if she would like to dance solos by three choreographers in languages that were not just about Kathak. Sinha was thrilled. But there was a spanner in the works. She would have to find a producer for the work, a huge challenge in a country with virtually no funding for the arts. She toyed with the idea for six months, till a chance conversation with technocrat and family friend Chirag Mehta led to the formation of IceCraft, the dance company that has produced Kin.

For Sinha, the freedom to pick the choreographers was equally heady and agonising. Her first pick, Israeli-born choreographer Miriam Peretz, was one of the easier choices to make. Sinha had been following Peretz’s work online and found her style elegant. Sinha says, “I met Miriam in Rome, where I spent 10 days learning her style. Since I had followed her work for several months, I found it easy to connect to it. The piece she created for me, Illumine, is about the light within that connects you to the supreme.

“There were similarities in our style: Miriam uses a lot of whirling in her work, but it felt very different, emotionally. Kathak is so much about showing what you have. There is footwork, virtuosity, and control of a certain kind — where your spine is always straight. With Miriam, the intention of the movement was different; she wanted me to lose myself.”

There is an orbital quality to Sinha’s movements in Illumine . She peers upwards, seeking the source of the light, circling her arms, then her torso, finally letting her entire body succumb to the whirling, against a soundtrack of frenetic rhythm is that is spoken, sung and played. Sinha’s thoughts on Illumine are replete with metaphors of flight and freedom: she speaks of release, of losing oneself, of seeking divine light. Perhaps she takes the audience with her. Then there is a change of tone in her voice as she brings up Id, the second piece in Kin, choreographed by Aakash Odedra .

Her occasional dance partner, Odedra, was not in the fray while Sinha chose choreographers. He was yet another of Chaudhry’s “challenges” to Sinha; the former felt it would help to rope in someone who had worked with Sinha, yet had a drastically different style of his own, besides being fairly young.

Odedra spent a month in Ahmedabad, creating the piece and training Sinha to develop the physical competency to execute his work. Id was emotionally draining for Sinha, who juggled sessions with Odedra and a physiotherapist in an attempt to neutralise the physical strain of being in his work.

If Peretz had begun to challenge Sinha’s notions of the erect spine and the performative body as a Kathak dancer, Odedra had thrown them out of the window by introducing floorwork. His personification of the dancer in Id was between witch, animal and human being: a raving shape-shifting being in tattered black robes, her hair strewn over her face. Sinha had to have a powerful, menacing presence, but remain in the shadows, without using her face and her body flamboyantly, the way Kathak encouraged her to. Instead of seeking the light, she now ran from it.

The third piece, then, needed to come from familiar terrain to be cathartic. Thus, Sinha invited Lakhia, her guru, to create Incede, where she comes home to love and longing, to the never-ending search where a resolution of these emotions is always only slightly out of reach.

Here, Sinha is at her fleet-footed best, churning out phrase after phrase, marking time and emphasis with her arms. It is charming to watch her forget herself, discarding the longing to narrow her eyes with steely intent as she executes an intricate rhythmic sequence, then returning to the feeling once she has made her point in rhythm.

New possibilities

Sinha credits the openness of Kathak for its easy assimilation into the global dance circuit. With its elliptical notion of space, rendered with basic hand gestures, Kathak can be a clean slate, not weighed down by predetermined meaning or symbolism. In footwork and spins, it also offers obvious possibilities of spectacle and extravagance. These elements, then, become goalposts for contemporary work, mingling with speech, text, new rhythms and personal dance languages while keeping the connection to tradition and form taut and alive.

Sinha traces this recognition of new possibilities in Kathak back to Lakhia. She says, “The dancers who work with Kathak in the contemporary space are able to think out of the box and stretch the form. It is only possible to do this when you have a strong base. All of us are well-trained in Kathak. It allows us to experiment. Way back in the 1980s, Kumiben [Lakhia] was creating stuff that no one else had thought of. We are all connected to her in some way, and this is the school of thought that allows us to lend ourselves to experimental work.”


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