I moved here (Delhi) from New York specifically to do this. It was very detailed, very much thought-out, a written proposal,” recalls artist Briana Blasko. Her exhibition of photographs, called Dance of the Weave is currently on display in the capital, courtesy the Vadehra Gallery at Defence Colony. Blasko’s photographs seek to explore the connection between fabric and dance; between the finely calibrated movements of Indian classical dance forms and the flow of the fabrics worn by the dancers themselves. The dance forms covered by Blasko include Kuchipudi, Bharatanatyam, Chhau, Kathakali and others. “When I went to the Kalamandalam University in Kerala, I was fascinated with the dancers’ preparation, the costumes and the layers of the skirts they wear. Although they have amazing facial expressions as well, my photographs were more about the body.”
When I went to the Kalamandalam University in Kerala, I was fascinated with the dancers’ preparation, the costumes and the layers of the skirts they wear.
While this intuitive link is indeed magnified and readily apparent in dances like Kathakali, this is by no means completely fresh territory. Marie-Gabrielle Rotie, choreographer, visual artist and an exponent of the Japanese Butoh dance form (its exaggeratedly slow movements have ensured that it’s parodied ad nauseam in Hollywood) wrote an article called Between Fabric and Flesh last year, where she said, “Over a 20-year career embracing choreography, performance and visual art for opera, theatre, dance and film I have experienced the profound and transformative relation between costume and movement. (…)Working with scraps of fabric, toiles or props I will often move and dance in the studios and we will discover the unexpected or develop a new direction for the design. This may seem quite obvious as a process but it is incredibly surprising how late, in this context, the body and movement are considered or inserted into the design process.”
Looking at her photographs, it is apparent that Blasko has tapped into a similar alchemy. A particularly striking one shows a group of men in Tamil Nadu huffing and puffing against a stone barrier, busy extracting indigo. The synchronised nature of their efforts, the flowing stained robes and the gush of the water from the other side of the barrier are all very suggestive of the rhythms of classical dance. Explaining her reasons for picking classical forms, Blasko says, “I’m quite in awe of the dedication and the effort put in by Indian classical dancers and also of how early they start. Besides, there are so many folk dances in India that the project would have become very vast; I could have done this for the rest of my life.”
Blasko says that picking martial dance forms like Kalaripayattu was a natural choice for her. “I practise ashtang yoga, which is an intensely physical thing, I could identify with the dancers practicing Kalaripayattu, as well as the Sattariya dancers in Majuli.” Blasko hopes to release a book of the same name later this year, which would compile all of the 120 photographs which she took during her travels. Perhaps the best way yet to describe her work is this quote from Kazuo Ohno, Marie-Gabrielle Cotie’s 103-years-old Butoh master, who said, “The costume is the performer’s universe.”
Venue: Vadehra Art gallery
Date: Until 16 January