Evolving a Contemporary Polycultural Artistic Practice

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The work of Anandam  as created by choreographer Brandy Leary,  incorporates divergent physical entry points and languages to create performances that occupy disciplinary grey spaces.  Rooting them is her 15 years of immersion, study, performance and practice of the traditional Indian dance and movement forms of Chhau (Seraikella and Mayurbhanj) and Kalari (South Indian Martial Art) and extensive  research into the ritual performances that surround these forms directly (as part of the forms themselves) and indirectly (geographically in their areas of origin).

This work embodies ‘Indian’ concepts of dance and theatre, embraces ‘Indian’ obligations between dancer and audience, and conforms to ‘Indian’ aesthetic principles that go back to the Natya Shastra. It presupposes a different connection to the underlying base vocabularies and how they inform the creation of contemporary explorations.  This moves away from the demonstration of a body technique that adheres to perceptions of authenticity or tradition to something that challenges the way these forms operate on internal and structural levels. It looks at   how they organize not only the body in space but the relationships between audiences and performers, between communities and art events. Through this line of inquiry these contemporary experiments engage with the underlying, subtle compositional structures, with approaches to the body and space, to create works that, on superficial examination, look aesthetically far from their source.

Anandam’s body of work is the evolution of a polycultural paradigm, which begins from the view that all cultures interact and draw from each other. Diversity must go beyond essentializing cultures,  to an awareness of the ways they mix, move and mingle.  The work created by the company  is not ‘inspired’ by these base vocabularies nor is it, and does not seek to be a ‘traditional’ expression of them. That which arises out of the base elements of these forms is finally realized as something that looks quite different from what is commonly called ‘Indian’ dance.

The contemporary work the company has been creating of late has been greatly influenced by the ritual performance structures, more than the physical vocabularies, of the forms we generally work with.  Associated with Chhau dance is the annual Chaitra parva (spring rituals) and in the Northern Malabar region in Kerala (kalari’s home) there is the thousands years old spirit cult rituals of the Theyyam dances.  These ritual performance structures provide the base for the company’s current  interests in creation and process that is an examination of the porous nature and permeability of the space between the audience and artists, durational performance and an exploration of how this space can operate outside European performance structures.

For example, the most practiced European template of performance makes clear divisions between the space and function of audiences and performers. Even in some cases of site specific work, this default structure is simply transported to another location while maintaining the same rules and roles. As performance diverged from being a community ritual within a participatory space to being an aesthetic spectacle with clear distinctions between watchers and watched, this relationship became the standard form of interaction between performer and audience. Anandam is interested in making works that de-stabilize this relationship, creating states of shared responsibility for performance making, with fluid shifts between observation and participation in the performance context.

We have been creating site-specific and theatre based works for the past number of years with these ideas in mind: fluid shifts between observation and participation in the performance making.  We are not so much interested in what we do for our audiences but rather in what we can do with them, actively and respectfully. We are interested in sharing responsibility for the performance event, in a way that is embodied rather than cerebral or philosophical because it is our belief that the activation of individual bodies of a diverse community has the potential to radically shift our awareness collectively.

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