A retrospective of intentions

Swar Thounaojam, a participant at the Writing on Dance Laboratory, examines her intention for writing about dance and asks tough questions on the curation and the care for contemporary dance in South Asia

At a conversation with the writers of Writing on Dance Laboratory 2015, critic Sadanand Menon said that the foremost thing he looks for in the works of dancers/choreographers is their intention. What is their motivation? How is it driving the work?

This same question can be asked of us – writers.

What was my intention?

I was also part of the Writing on Dance Laboratory of Attakkalari India Biennial 2013. My intention was different then. I was new to the Biennial structure and predictably intended to cover the centre stage shows. The process of FACETS got revealed to me only during conversations and subsequent presentations. Due to time constraints, I was unable to be actively involved with Platform 13. We also had more access to centre stage performers and choreographers that year (which wasn’t really possible this year).

Covering the centre stage performances was a slow discovery of how the Biennial was being “curated”. The ambition of such an international contemporary dance festival is big and often strange. There is an anxiety for cultivating an audience for the festival with big ticket productions which obviously means that some serious amount of money needs to be pumped in. This necessitates the entry of rich embassies from rich countries with rich cultural arms as partners. Over the years, out of habit and unimaginative funding ideas, the partnerships have become entrenched in odd, worrying ways. The unfortunate result in 2015 is a meagre list of extremely expensive productions from a few countries like Germany, France, Switzerland as centre stage performances. The international tag obviously comes at a huge price.

This entrenchment also plays out in other areas: these partnerships foist dance mentors, sound designers, lighting designers, emerging choreographers from the partner countries on the very important local process called FACETS – the choreography residency at the Biennial. Conversations with young choreographers from the subcontinent who have been a part of the FACETS process gave us some insights. Many of the mentors have no clue of the background and context the young choreographers are coming from. There have been sound designers and lighting designers with whom the young dancers could not communicate properly because of language barriers. The pressure on the choreographers to produce a finished product at the end of the residency is also quite high and questions are being asked about the counter productivity of such pressure.

This year, the centre stage performances brought up lots of problematic questions – the grotesque reality of a 17 lakh rupees stage set; the tokenistic representation of land grab in Bangalore; the racist representation of two local brown performers as waiters amongst visiting white dancers; the painful orientalism of an animated Laughing Buddha doing mudras – questions that make you roll your eyes and laugh now because even after reams of critical writing on White excesses and appropriation, you still have to sit and endure such productions in 2015. Yawn. Snort. Close. I had no intention of repeating the same critique to visiting performers who might not care or be affected by such responses.

FACETS and Platform 15 are the kind of processes I want to follow closely. My intention lies there. The conversations I was having with these young dancers from the subcontinent became important – what we see and what we make get constantly redefined. If I have to write about contemporary dance, I need to be deeply invested in these processes – the politics, the dynamics, the power play, the constraints, the grace, the joy, the beauty – the processes that facilitate conversations. New vocabularies for writing about contemporary dance have to be forged out of these conversations. The critical voices of the dancers need to be heard. Our responses to their work need to have such spaces.

To keep on having these conversations is my intention. 

Swar Thounaojam
Richa Bhavanam


Ligament, the online dance journal, has been launched to reflect the keen rise in the interest to contextualise, reflect and voice the goings-on around contemporary dance practices in the South Asian region. It has been envisioned as an avenue that is aimed at prompting and encouraging a sustained engagement between contemporary dance practitioners, thinkers, writers, artistic practitioners from other mediums, stakeholders and the wider public. Over the past editions of the Attakkalari Dance Biennial, there has been a continuous effort to create a space for writing on dance; and with this squarely in mind, Ligament has been conceived as a platform to facilitate the much-needed articulation and thinking through this evolving language. We hope to accomplish this by looking at this artistic practice through the perspective of historical threads that helped shape, through practice and creation of work, which is adding and solidifying the ever-changing lexicon and its presentation, or even through research and scholarship. The endeavour is to make this an open, creative and vibrant forum that invites ideas, contributions and suggestions allowing for the collective development of this artistic practice in the South Asian context; as well as mapping its links and impacts on contemporary dance as a whole. On one hand, it is about looking at contemporary dance as a growing repository of our present realities and on the other hand delving into our rich heritage of physical and performative traditions in an attempt to seek continuum and elucidate the now. In an attempt to ravel the medium of contemporary dance, We aren’t simply interested in text as a mode of expressing, reading, examining and looking at contemporary dance but to reflect the dynamic and interactive nature of the movement arts, we are also looking towards image, sound and video and the practitioners of these mediums to create and catalyse conversations. We hope that dialogue and discourse enabled through Ligament opens various entry points into the ongoing shifts in contemporary dance for its lovers, practitioners, enablers and its future.

- Jayachandran Palazhy
Artistic Director, Attakkalari Centre for Movement Arts

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