Exclusive interviews with artistes of The Park's THE OTHER FESTIVAL
D'LO (USA/Sri Lanka)
'Ramble-ations: Excerpts from the One D'Lo Show' - Solo Performance Art on Dec 6, 2004
November 6, 2004
|A dynamic performance artiste, poet,
truthspeaker and activist, D'Lo has used music and comedy through
her message-oriented art to communicate enlightened hope. Her gifts of
music, poetry and dance elucidate the truth surrounding some of our most
complex social issues, including brutality, justice, AIDS, sexuality, political
unrest and ethnic and gender bias.
Rooted in the Hindu traditions of her native Sri Lankan background, D'Lo is trained in Bharatanatyam, hip-hop and a number of musical instruments. With over 100 performances to her credit, she is a one-woman choir, representing the harmony of many voices, the fusion of many cultures, the coexistence of many philosophies and the hope of all our futures.
How do you reconcile your training in the rigorous Bharatanatyam style with the freewheeling style of hip-hop? Was it a conscious decision to break away from the classical mode? How has it helped your artistically?
First off, the training that I had in Bharathanatyam was at a younger age, though I have “brushed up” when I've incorporated the style into theater/dance pieces. At these times of “brushing up”, I worked and trained with a phenomenal dancer Gayathri Arumugham who is based out of New York. It was to my advantage that Gayathri saw my vision in creating pieces in which hip-hop and BN could exist on stage together in a strong, non-demeaning manner to either form. In actuality, I am not a Bharathanatyam dancer, nor will I ever claim to be - so, there was no thought around a “breaking away from classical mode”. When creating the pieces, I made sure to stay true to the legacy and history of BN and in this mode, I studied the beats/rhythm and footwork to create a link to hip-hop. By creating a story told through dance, I was given the opportunity to utilize elements of both styles of dance to add texture to the story: using a dance “battle” (it's a hip-hop thang, I'll get into later) as a form of displaying talent, having (and I feel hesitant using this term) a “hip-hop conversation” only using abhinaya, and implementing beatboxing and solkattu as reactions to each other.
Doing all this has helped me artistically in that both dance forms reflect my cultural backgrounds. I am a Tamil Sri Lankan- American and Hip-Hop has been my guide through this life. Because I am proud of who I am and what has made me and because I take the presentation of art seriously and because I want to make people proud of what they see, I push myself to research and rehearse so that the majority audience will walk away in full support of what they have witnessed, rather than walk away with the feelings of disgust that injustice was done to any of the art forms/dance styles.
Can you describe your artistic process?
From the writing to the actual performance aspect of theater, everything needs a space. Most artists will tell you that when inspiration hits them, is when they create.
Others say they need a space and ample time to set aside to create.
When we are young and feeling things new, inspiration is all that's needed.
Inspiration doesn't visit as often as you get older, so you rely on discipline to carry you until Inspiration takes turns with Discipline, baby-sitting your thoughts and emotions.
Deadlines and audiences who are not familiar with my work are currently my favorite form of inspiration.
What themes inspire you the most? You describe yourself as 'truthspeaker' - could you elaborate on that?
I can't think of any themes that inspire me most. It's different aspects of life, the everyday things that my eyes see and the everyday things I imagine that other people see and feel.
And as far as calling myself a “Truthspeaker”- I wasn't the one who used that term; my manager at the time had someone do my press stuff. But I feel that everyone is a truth speaker of their own truths. It's the universal truth that is reflected through the artist's eyes…or maybe I'm biased.
But to answer the question that I think you're getting at, I believe that my role as an artist is to break silences that have been surrounding us all our lives.
Y'know, my parents don't exactly approve of what I do, or what I talk about, or even who I am and how I conduct myself (don't get me wrong, I'm not some floozy). But it is because of the people who come next that I feel like it is my duty as an artist to talk about the shit that we've always been “hush hush” about- whether it be the injustice that we see through our eyes and feel powerless to do something about it OR whether it be as simple or complex as being gay. All those times that we feel depressed about our world and get even more depressed about having kids because we don't want to leave them an even shittier world - yo, I do it for the future. It's the only thing that keeps me sane. It's the only thing that keeps me alive, heart pumping.
If I got anything to do with it, I don't wanna let anyone else in my community commit suicide, I don't wanna leave it up to Time to decide whether or not someone's going in the looney bin. I do what I do because everybody in the world has felt alone and neglected at some point. I do it because a LOT of people have felt like a freak in their communities. I do it because I have felt powerless against the mighty money machines that control everything. And so, knowing this, I think I speak the “TRUTH” about a whole lotta people's lives. This is just my little something to keep me going and to hopefully keep others going.
Can you tell us about some of your recent work, and the idea behind them?
Well, recently I've been writing around sexuality and gender a lot more. I don't know how that all happened, what inspired me, but I think I was just fed up with not seeing much around these subjects close to what I felt about them. I just finished a 3 weekend run of my play “Ballin With My Bois” at WOW theater in NYC and have had 3 producers interested in bringing it back there because of the overwhelming response and the fact that we sold out almost every night. So, that tells me that I was right- just like me, people are hungry for art that pertains to their lives.
Prior to this year, I had mostly been writing around politics. Politics of war, injustice in the streets and in the government. I think, as I get older, I'm finding more and more ways of connecting “ALL PEOPLE's” Struggles.
As Artists we all have shaded lenses over what goes on around us in society. Everything ends up being in our work. So it's not like I pick something and then write about it. I think the subject that wants to have light shed on it taps me on the shoulder.
Jeezus, I'm sounding like a freaking hippy.
Hopefully, I won't start growing dreadlocks and wearing patchouli oil.
What is the scope for presenting such works in Sri Lanka?
Well, we're just going to have to see to that.
I been trying to juggle a lot at one time and haven't been doing a good job at it.
For the past 6 months, the play has been top priority.
I know that I could go through certain producers and organizations I know in Sri Lanka to present my work already, but I want to wait until I have something I KNOW will resonate with folks. I wouldn't mind doing a residency over there and creating pieces that are around and about the communities there.
In terms of your origin as well as lack of funding for the arts, how conducive is the present situation in USA for artistes like you as compared to before 9/11?
Funding for the arts was going to go away anyway. I'm not the biggest conspiracy theorist but there's WAY TOO MANY signs out there that tell me that the government thinks art classes and music shouldn't be taught in schools. Art and music inspires people to action, that's why. You give a kid an instrument, you can call him a revolutionary. The creativity makes souls soar.
And artists make everyone think and talk.
The people in power don't want that.
So 9/11, to me, was an “excuse” to take away even MORE funding.
But these days, the US government may decide that they need more money for toilet paper and go straight to the arts funding for that money (instead of washing out their stinky asses with water).
Are there enough art festivals to showcase work like yours? Who comprise your main audience?
There's many festivals to showcase my art. Gay/trans festivals, South Asian festivals, Youth festivals, Sri Lankan festivals, Women festivals, People of Color festivals, Hip-hop theater festivals etc. My main audience consists of everyone (but I don't' see a whole lotta older white men too much).
Is this your first performance in India? What are your feelings about performing here at The Park's THE OTHER FESTIVAL?
Yup, first “real” performance (not taking acting a fool in front of my peers as my “first” ) .
My feelings about performing in India are kinda jumbled. Of course, I feel hella honored to be a part of this festival. I have been waiting for an opportunity like this for a long time and especially because it feels like the Desh Pardesh festival that used to occur in Toronto, the Diasporadics Festival that happened in NYC. I know that the festival was created for cutting edge artists and art and I'm hella down for that cause. But I also don't know what I'm in for, just cuz I don't know in what way my work will compliment the festival.
I don't know what the audience is like. I know that hip-hop has made its way to India, but I also don't know how it's being perceived over there. I want to be an example of how hip-hop is a lifestyle and not just a “cool” thing to pick up cuz its mainstream now. I don't know if the hip-hop stuff is going to be understood (so I'll be doing that acapella) and then I don't know if me dressing in drag (which for me is dressing as a woman-this particular piece I will be doing as a South Asian mother) is going to be received in the same way because it's about being an immigrant mother in the States…issues that 2nd generation South Asians have to deal with and stuff that folks in India don't go through (but what I'm assuming would be pretty much like the Indian kids wanting to break out from the roles their own mothers have set for them). ALSO, I see there's a lot of dance in the program, and though I have done dance pieces (fusing hip-hop and Bharatanatyam) in the past, they have usually consisted of myself and 1 or 2 other people and I am not able to bring anyone else besides myself to this festival. And since it will only be me, I want to be able to perform to the best of my ability, knowing that I will be able to connect with the audience in the way that God has allowed me to do ALL my life…
But I'm up for this challenge.