Jai Ranjit

September 12, 2011

Review : Beautiful Thing 2

The vessel’s thingness does not lie at all in the material of which it consists, but in the void that it holds.” – Heideggar

The space is expansive, open and yet enclosed; getting here sets the stage as the Clark House Initiative warehouse sits in an obscure mill compound. Dramatic and enveloping, without seeming heavy; this space preempts excitement and anticipation.

On the wall to the left of the entrance is handwritten:

In traditional Geometry a three dimensional object is thought to occupy space. However, once the object starts moving, it is no longer in a 3 dimensional Newtonian universe, but enters the Einsteinian cosmology of the ‘fourth dimension’. Gravity is produced by the compression/expansion of space around and between objects that in reality, do not occupy, space, but rather displace it.” – Padmini Chettur

The stage is a dance floor created using random tiles and boards found within the old warehouse, kept in place with cement. Speakers in two corners of the space, straw mats and large sheets along with metal boxes make up the seating. From the ceiling hangs a set of small metal sculptures indicating dance forms.

Chettur walks on stage and takes her place. The audience quietens; it begins.

In silence, Chettur walks slowly across the length of the rectangular floor. She pauses, and then incredibly, almost inhumanly, she begins to move her body with the slightest of changes as she returns to where she started from. Every muscle in her body flexes and relaxes to its utmost limit as she concentrates through the tough choreography of the first of nine ‘lines’. Her movements are so precise and slow that it seems like the black tiles below her feet are being bent, that she is actually bending space, displacing it. By slowing down the movements in time, she gives us an extremely unique look at the dynamics of a moving object in space in terms of relativity.

As she moves through the various ‘lines’ across the stage, the speakers come to life with a series of broken, almost unrelated bursts of sound, which further the dramatics of the moment exponentially. The balance is shifted constantly, as one looks on, be it by the positioning of her body at a certain point in the three dimensional space of the dancefloor, or by her movement s across and through it. She uses her movement studies to attempt to visualize and clarify what we see as space. The undulating movements of ‘Line 5’, which requires her to lie down and rotate her body using her hips and legs, leads the eyes along a curving revolution, almost defining the rotations and revolutions of cosmic bodies like stars and planets.

This is Chettur’s first solo performance in nearly ten years, during which time she has been working constantly with groups of dancers. A first solo in that long is a daunting enough task, but Chettur is so sure of herself, her choreography and her team, that she gives it her all and pulls off something rare –  she makes the audience think. Her skeletal baring of the fabric of time in space begs one to ask the question – “How do I see myself in the grand motion of the universe?”

On the other hand, Chettur also tackles the problems of perception and the body, particularly, the female body. In this extremely bare performance, we see Chettur’s own female form from nearly every angle as she twists and turns her way around the stage space. She considers this piece, like many others she has done before, to be a form of research into human perception. This is evident from the post-performance discussion she has with the audience. Solo about stillness

Beautiful Thing 2 (BT2), the only Indian performance and a Festival commission, was by Chennai-based contemporary dancer/choreographer Padmini Chettur. BT2 is Chettur’s 11th creation, and marks her return to the solo.

Why Chettur? “Padmini’s exploration of the body is very interesting; it is easy to see why she is considered a protégée of Chandralekha,” Low replies. “Padmini’s contemporary approach to dance, as well as her tutelage under Chandralekha, makes her a perfect fit for the Festival, which deals with the idea of memory.

Chettur says, “For me, working in Asia is very particular, as there aren’t so many platforms.” She shares that the SAF commission was an opportunity to premiere the work under “very good technical conditions,” with a budget that allowed her to work with her European collaborators.

BT2’s premiere in Singapore showed Chettur’s minimalist aesthetic strongly in play. If Chettur’s last work, Beautiful Thing 1, was a group performance about movement dynamics, her latest work, BT2, was experienced as a solo about stillness. The piece focussed on the body as an object rather than on rhythm and motion.

The piece’s movements were small, controlled and repeated through linear trajectories, and presented as nine short studies in space. Chettur seemed to be dealing with the body as a container of energy, and exploring the precise transfers of energy needed, say, from the shoulder to the arm to swing it around, or to propel a rotating body moving across the floor.

An intrinsic part of BT2 was the lighting by Jan Maertens that used some 100 lights to create tangible spaces of darkness and brightness within which the piece unfolded. Also complementing the “silence of the body” as presented by Chettur was the soundscape by Maarten Visser. Motifs such as the sound of whirring fans subtly suggested interiors – such as the studio space where the process of BT2 might have been worked out.

Questions are asked of her about everything from the performance itself, to the base concepts she is working with, all the way to her own process within and without the studio. Light-hearted conversation is given the seriousness it deserves, and the information exchanged between Chettur and her audience is very interesting. Spatial and body perception is discussed at length, as is her process of choreography and thinking. She speaks of connecting with the audience and how that has an impact on the overall performance itself, her experiences across the world, and her core team, who she has the greatest respect and love for.

For those who were lucky enough to witness this performance, nay, this ‘Beautiful Thing’, questions never asked before will have found the beginnings of answers, and memories created for a lifetime. Chettur’s unbelievably controlled speech through motion was a privilege to be in the presence of, and if time truly is relative, as she showed here, her performance provokes the question – why don’t we take a moment to look around and ask a few important questions?