‘My work negotiates between private lives and public space’

‘My work negotiates between private lives and public space’

By SRIJA NASKAR | | 4 June, 2016
Mandeep Raikhy. Photo: Soumitra Bhattacharya
Managing director of the Gati Dance Forum, Mandeep Raikhy talks to Srija Naskar about his latest performance piece screened in Delhi, tackling the sensitive subject of homosexuality in India.

Q. Has Queen Size been your most political work? Is this the first time you have attempted to address a socio-political issue through choreography?

A. I have done it in the past, like, I have looked at questioning notions of masculinity through my last work, A male ant has straight antennae. It ended up gathering a kind of political framework around itself as it got made but the work itself didn’t start as addressing a socio-political space.
But this particular work, Queen Size, stems from Nishit Saran’s article which is highly political. The very figure of this work was a political one —to make space for something that wasn’t represented in a socio-cultural landscape by making it visible.

Q. How did you interpret Saran’s article “My bedroom habits should be your business” in your piece?

A. There is this negotiation in my work about watching something in the public realm and watching something very private in the public domain. Already the tension was sort of set up and I think from the very beginning I was conscious of the fact that I was in a way playing with two binaries. So it is negotiating that tension which became the work for me; how something private remains private and it doesn’t become naarabazi protest. There is something poetic about being behind closed doors without being viewed. There is something poetic about a performance that happens between two people which isn’t viewed at all but it is highly alive. How does one accept that kind of a private space in a performance format?

Q. What ideas went behind the title Queen Size?

A. Behind Queen Size was this idea of one drawing attention to the bed itself and drawing attention to what the bed represents as a space that holds two people together. There is also certain attention drawn to the size. It is a single bed. In a way, Queen Size, invites two bodies to negotiate with each other to be able to cohabit that particular space.

Q. But instead of a bed, what you chose for the piece was a charpai. Why so?

A. One reason was personal, because one of the dancers actually knew how to make the charpai. So I went to his house and I saw that it was full of charpais. Then it struck me that that is the kind of world he comes from and this is the skill that he learnt when he grew up. So immediately I was taken in by the fact that these are the different kinds of worlds we come from and how we can actually make an effort to accept all those worlds. The reason why the charpai became exciting for me was one because it represented something personal as far as dancers were concerned and for me it also represented an object which is transparent. You can see what’s underneath it, you can see through it, you can see what’s on it. So there is no hiding away, there is no reason to be discreet. And I felt this only added to the argument. There is no need to hide. There is a certain kind of transparency that the object brings with it and works well with what the piece is proposing.

“The logic of this material is very different from any text-based material. An idea in a choreographic exploration unfolds in very different ways and that for me is a very exciting place; that they aren’t literal, aren’t linear necessarily, and that there is a certain kind of exploration of ideas or unlocking of an essence that happens through the body that cannot happen in any other medium.”
Q. What kind of sound score did you imagine having, with Japanese sound designer Yasuhiro Morinaga?

A. He made the sound for this piece, in particular. And we worked on this idea of pulse. We identified pulse as this sort of overacting sound idea that we wanted to play with because perhaps, pulse meant many things — pulse was sometimes this idea of time ticking away, this idea of time that stretches itself and contrasts itself on what is happening, this idea of adrenaline in a very heated moment, this idea of a lilting heartbeat.

Q. You have also incorporated news clippings in the soundtrack. In between the piece, I could hear snippets from a TV news debate on the recriminalisation of Section 377. How did you visualise having it as part of the choreography?

A. We were looking at what the soundscape could be and somewhere this negotiation of the public and the private domain was a big thing for all of us. And these high-pitched televised debates that happen around us are  something that we’re all used to, by now, in this country. So much so that to many of us, it almost begins to mean nothing.

And I think this soundscape really uses it as noise, as if you were hearing this noise which is pretty much like traffic noise from a second floor balcony. It means nothing, it’s just a hum really. That is how I tried to contrast it with the kind of world that the dancers were inhabiting, which was quite personal and sensitive, to show how these two worlds collide with each other, to draw to account the metaphors around what a debate in a public domain is vis-à-vis a very private matter.

Q. Now a little bit about your life. How did you get drawn into this world of performance art?

A. Well I guess it comes from working with a particular material for a while. If you look at dance that works with body as a material, over a period of time, I felt like there are things that I wanted to say which is when I began to see how dance can actually become a way for me to begin to unfold an idea, to think about certain ideas — by using the body as a material where ideas could be imagined, transformed, communicated.

The logic of this material is very different from any text-based material. An idea in a choreographic exploration unfolds in very different ways and that for me is a very exciting place; that they aren’t literal, aren’t linear necessarily, and that there is a certain kind of exploration of ideas or unlocking of an essence that happens through the body that cannot happen in any other medium.

Q. Any interesting project in the pipeline that you might want to share with our readers.

A. I like to stay with one project for a while. Because this is a project that I have just sort of premiered, so it takes me a while to sort of develop it , while it gets performed. I don’t let these projects become a solid piece that doesn’t evolve. That thoka thoki continues for a while, so I keep shifting this a little bit, that a little bit in my pieces. And I like doing that so that it doesn’t become frozen in form. Usually it takes me about two years to start thinking about another project.


Review: Queen Size

Photo: Desmond RobertsAn artistic response to the struggles of being gay in this country  

“What I do in my bedroom has to be your business, my sophisticated friends. For you have made my sexuality a public matter even before I was born. Have you heard about Section 377 of the Indian Penal Code? It is our ridiculously archaic law against ‘unnatural’ offences,” Nishit Saran had written in the article titled “Why my bedroom habits are your business”, to not only talk about the colonial law  which violates constitutional rights to life, liberty and prevention of discrimination on the basis of one’s sexual identity, but also to talk about the lives of millions of people and their constant collective fear and pain that have been silenced and made invisible in the face of the Indian legal system.

Delhi-based Gati Dance Forum’s managing director Mandeep Raikhy’s latest piece Queen Size is an artistic response to Saran, a queer rights activist and a trailblazing filmmaker known for his powerful documentary Summer in My Veins that traces his personal struggle with family and his homosexual identity.

Played out on a charpai, Queen Size is a detailed study of the intimacy between two men. The duo, Lalit Khatana and Parinay Mehra, translate the pattern of their close encounter — carnal, mechanical and emotional — into a texture that surfaces the Gujral house in Jor Bagh. 24, Jor Bagh, a private home where the choreographic exploration takes place is an attempt to pose questions around spectatorship, privacy and dissent.

The piece is premised on the notion of “looking” — looking, that sometimes verges on voyeurism, sometimes on gazing, at other times on censorship or even defiance. As the dancers keep looking only at each other fixedly while getting intimate — sometimes as they stand motionlessly and stare at the other, or while playing around the idea of proximity as they tease each other from under the charpai, or as they touch, undress, make love and change sexual positions — choreographer Raikhy leaves open-ended the almost bedroom-like space of Jorbagh for spectators to either choose to gaze through the window from outside or explore the contested spaces of the private and the public that revolves around queer lives by choosing to either enter and sit through the piece, change positions of viewing in between the piece or leave at any point.

In fact, while deciding to make his bedroom business, perhaps Raikhy somewhere questions the privilege of “looking”. The onlooker, spoilt for myriad roles to choose from, may feel empowered, but as the subjects hardly look back in reciprocity, it may perhaps be seen as an ultimate voiding of the possibility of power. As a corollary, it should also be noted that this voluntary decision of two adults to sleep with each other, to do what they want to do in their private space, an act of rebellion against the existing law, gets enhanced by the theatrical/public space that surrounds it — how, where and why it is viewed or looked upon.

Japanese sound designer Yashuhiro Morinaga has used sounds that add soul to the choreographed piece. Of particular mention is the lighting, the way the dim yellow lights are made to fade fast as the intimacy between the dancers gains momentum, adding more nuance to the narrative.


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