Gati Residency – An Abode for New Work

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Image By: Soumit & Soumita

Creating work without a frame of reference is a common phenomenon among independent artists in India.  They fully devote their time and effort in order to create a piece of work but are often lacking in direction.  Anusha Lall realised the urgent need for an artist-friendly atmosphere which would enhance the choreographic process.  As a result, Lall initiated the Gati Dance Forum, a non-profit Public Charitable Trust run by dancers for dancers which leads workshops in technique and choreography and presents the work from dancers, young and established.  In November 2010, Gati hosted IGNITE!, a festival of contemporary dance that showcased acclaimed work from artists across the world alongside the best of contemporary artists from India.

A salient feature of the forum is the annual Gati Summer Dance Residency (GSDR), where chosen choreographers are provided with financial support, individual mentoring, rehearsal space and production assistance.  As one might imagine, to conceive a residency for emerging choreographers of the Indian subcontinent is a colossal task.  Ambiguous definitions of ‘traditional’ and ‘contemporary’ often places artists, and their work, into grey areas of identity.  Favouring multiplicity in art, Lall felt that there was a significant need to support ‘new work’ by locating new initiatives without demarcation of forms and restricting notions of ‘the contemporary’.

Now in its third successful year, GSDR prides itself as the only residence available to Indian dancers, aiming to address key areas in India’s professional dance scene such as creation and choreography.  As it stands, classical training does not focus on the technique of choreography and so dancers are expected to evolve as choreographers in their professional journey with limited choreographic ideas.  More often than not they stick to arrangements of existing movements in permutations and combinations or simple enmeshing of multiple styles so the thought of creating something from scratch is understandably daunting.  The residency introduces the artists to the freedom of creativity by guiding them through improvisation tasks and opening up their imagination. 

During the residency, a week-long workshop acclimatised the residents and mentors to new creative conditions.  Special workshops from Christopher Lechner and Victoria Hauke were aimed at bringing a fresh perspective to movement while exploring beyond the technique and form, designed for all dancers regardless of their multifarious backgrounds.  Master-classes in yoga led by Lokesh Bhardwaj, and Release technique from Mandeep Raikhy (Gati’s Programme Director), were created to prepare dancers before rehearsals, while inputs from Jean Christophe Lanquetin allowed the choreographers to explore scenography in their work.

This year’s residency mentors included renowned theatre artist, Maya Krishna Rao, Christopher Lechner who has worked extensively with improvisation, contact and installation art, and Anusha Lall herself.  It is the mentors’ job to challenge the artists’ set notions of dance, theatre and performance and question their choices at every stage of creation.  As experts in their respective, the mentors provided an ‘outside eye’ while refraining from prescribing a set methodology, or pedagogy, for the artists’ choreography. 

Two performances named ‘ALL WARMED UP’ were held at Shri Ram Centre, Delhi on15 & 16 June 2011 to showcase the work of six resident choreographers of this year – Mehneer Sudan, Niranjani Iyer, Mayuka Gayer, Nongmeikapam Surjit, Rukmini Vijaykumar and Deepak Kurki Shivaswamy.  These six choreographers were chosen on merit for their previous experience as well as their potential to develop. 

Niranjani Iyer, a performer and director who studied at L’École Jacques Lecoq, was reassured throughout the residency that dance theatre was her mode of expression. Her work, Around the Wandering Shadow, questioned ideas of displacement in movement.  During the residency she realised that people are interested in her kind of work, even though it remains quite nascent in India.  Japanese-born artist Mayuka Gayer, who furthered her studies in sociology and arts in France, has been studying odissi since 2006.  Her work explores ‘in-between-ness’ and experiences in multiple kinespheres precipitate into the idea of a floating body, which is reflected in her work, Floating Sphere.