ReMEMBERING - A Multimedia Dance Theatre Piece by Navtej Johar and Jemima Hoadley 
by Vasanti Sankaranarayanan, Chennai 

March 2002

It was not just "remembering", as in recollection of the past, memories or delving into the sub-conscious, but "Re-membering" meaning  a reconstruction of the physical, mental and  emotional selves through fantasy and dream that was the theme of the dance theatre performance by Navtej Johar, an Indian contemporary dancer and Jemima Hoadley, whose training and vocation deals with physical theatre. This production was commissioned and funded by British Council, and had the additional support of Lisa Ullmann Traveling Scholarship, Sankrit Kendra, India and Nehru Centre 
and Akademi, U.K. 

Both the dancers were dressed in casual clothes (even though they must have been specially designed for the piece) which  helped the audience to imagine that this is an interpersonal reflection, a reassembling of personal journeys  of which the audience are allowed to be privy, and not merely a formal presentation on stage.  In other words, it had the quality of reading a small section of two personal diaries, an informal listening and seeing of personal experiences. If the audience could forget that they were watching a staged performance and therefore had to understand and appreciate the whole as well the parts of the piece and just relax and treat it as an experience of glimpsing an experience in memory, dream and fantasy, one could get more out of the performance.  The light design created by Gautam Pande for this production was superb. There was a shimmering, tentative and nudging quality to the lighting that suited the general mood of the main theme of fantasy, dream and memory. The music though adequate was more upfront, slick and imposing rather than suggestive and hinting. It led the dancers rather than quietly following them and creating a flow. 

Navtej Johar explained that this project was started in July 2000 and was completed within six weeks. It was premiered in New Delhi and continued with further performances across India and the U.K.  The two performers come from diverse backgrounds and experiences.  This gave validity to this cross-cultural experimentation. They met in London in 1999 and a long distance communication via the electronic mail, led to a virtual studio dates. Material and ideas developed in this period formed a base for ReMembering. It must have been very difficult to communicate ideas through email and follow it up with independent choreographing, subsequently meeting and melding them into one performance piece. The disjointed and fractured quality comes through in dance. But, isn't it what is required when you are trying to portray memory, fantasy and dreams. 

The performers have tried to recreate the "islands of counter-orbiting  remembering  and re-membering the body in the arena of cyberspace, where the www. displaces human interactions, exciting speedy and fractured identifications. Fantasy becomes more real than real and reality is arrested by curiosity." Even though this remember / re-member saga is recaptured by two artists from different backgrounds and vocations (dance/theatre), they mentioned that "fusion" was not their idea, instead, entering into different spheres of which they are not familiar, and exploring the possibilities of exposing their body to different disciplines. There was bound to be the dilution of their original skills to some extent. But, Navtej mentioned that it was a challenge, a challenge that calls for rigour and discipline, not only of the body, but the mind. And he took on the challenge and is not unhappy about it, though he is not sure whether he will be able to repeat the experiment in future. 

The challenge had different effects on the two from the audience point of view. In Navtej's case, the fragments of  "own consciousness" came through at very many points in gestures and body movements. In fact, his vulnerability and probably some clumsiness about adapting his body to a different style of expression was visible. One could see the resonances of Bharatanatyam gestures and movements and even Abhinaya in a different form.  But in Jemima's case there was no attempt to cross the boundary and explore another form of body expression. It was only the form that was familiar to her namely the western contemporary dance that came through. The effect was not altogether convincing. 

In order to fulfill the multimedia requirements of the sponsors, the video clippings of these dancers were also added. The two dancers danced in front of the video clippings of their dances. The effect was distracting. The eye is not used to shifting from one visual to the other. The video clippings were taken by Sunil Mehra and his group and were very effective. In fact, the video clippings had a seductive quality, giving a mysterious, other worldly and unreal aura to the dance that often the tendency was to shift focus to the video and not look at the dancers.  When asked whether this did not have a negative effect on the flow of the dance movements itself, both of them mentioned that the video clippings were shown when they were doing the repetitive movements in the dance and therefore it was not very difficult to accept that attention was being taken off from the actual dancing during those moments. 

It is very difficult to sum up and give a verdict on the dance. At times it was very touching, even bringing out the pathos of memory erasure and identity seeking in a constantly deflective environment. But, at other times it was very mechanical, the idea superimposed on movements. The question remains, can experimental dances be perfect, finished pieces or are they given the allowance of ups and downs, fractured edges?   

Vasanti Sankaranarayanan, is a PhD holder from Madras University on the subject “Malayalam Cinema, Society and Politics of Kerala”. She has translated books from Malayalam to English and vice versa and has written some dance scripts. She is a freelance journalist and art critic.