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- Sumeet Nagdev
Photos: Ritam Banerjee

November 22, 2017
I don't write as much as I used to. But then again, there needs to be a compelling instance for narration, and I found one recently with the minimalist or rather liminal (ist) contemporary dancer.

We are always in a phase of time transition and of course change in every phase is the inevitable source of ceaselessness to humanity. At one such phase when dance occurred to me in my late teens, I was introduced to a mover with minimal movements who was described to me as an extremely detailed and volatile expressionist, not to forget most learned and revered. In my chaste mind when I first saw him, there was a question of visual presentation, which was unlike the common. If I look back now I see, my mind was trained for adaptability of the common, but the surprise took a while to sink in or rather sink out even.

I kept watching him year after year and many a times intrigued, stirred and even confused. To like or dislike is always an option but in his creations that part was never presented. It was always an agonizing smile, a squeal for help, a cry for his mother or a gesture of calm that he controlled completely.

As I transitioned into the performance sphere of dance, I was bombarded with a world compelling me to present an idea to the audience because that was the norm. A social burner or a political lie, a storyteller or a sympathetic cry, a mythology or just anything that was defined as an idiom. I did so and realized the struggle to find that articulation that steers an escapade through the nerves. Like I had experienced the squeal, cry, and calm controlling me, I just couldn't understand its locus in my brain, neither could I pen it, note it or explain it. The norm of dance for the common slowly became a divertissement.

Astad Deboo at Studio Tamasha, Mumbai

But then the ceaselessness of emotions also depends on experience. My recent experience was in a boxed room of two doors with shadows and a table. A 70-year old body slowly fixated my nerves to the edges of life and its uncertainty. As the dancer moved in slow pulses the shadows spoke to him about the stillness of time and the reason for balance. The echoes of sound and his eyes that had blinks choreographed to rhythm kept the body still and the heart mercurial. When he hesitated to move from the corner of his door to the distant door so near him, I felt the equivocated me lying in the corner of common, undecided to channelize the energy to move resiliently in the unchartered open. That fear of unknown was punishing, resonating and real for the time that wasn't moving. After an hour of circling in life there was an arrested stillness and the extemporized nature was returned to the audience.

In a decade of knowing this paragon of unchartered articulation, I have simultaneously elsewhere experienced lightning footwork on unnatural coeval music, abhinayas fabricated in the new, lights becoming play, dancers stretching the boundaries of synchronization, costumes becoming formidable and media determining rules of dance movement. All slowly became that corner of common when I saw Liminal. I was reassured that an artist needs to escapade many contemporary barriers to be able to perform one.

This unlike the common performer does not give presentations in dance but helps you dive in them and at times can remind you to practice the plummet of experience. It's best I explain the experience in 3 words. 'Waah Astad Waah!'

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Sumeet Nagdev is the artistic director of Sumeet Nagdev Dance Arts, Mumbai.