Interview: Dancing, an interpretive process

See new interview with online fashion and art magazine on south asian culture, CLICK HERE. Interview also pasted below.

Do you always read poetry for dance?

No. I love words and I love reading how authors experiment with them in order to evoke something artistic. I think I’m a storyteller. I think I sometimes don’t have the vocabulary or the courage to describe life with words. And I think to do so is important. So my habit in reading tends to be a search for my own narratives of life; found somewhere between the words of these authors.

I also love to share these poems with others. The problem with the Urdu language in poetry, unlike perhaps Spanish poetry, in that its English translation lack the resonances and nuances necessary to understand lyrical and silent emotion. I feel that the English translations fail to translate the silences present in Urdu poetry; and the very fact of their silences make it quite difficult for the English language to substitute it with words, without eventually adding more to it —– I use the word “silences” because I think Urdu was meant for the ear and not the eye. There is a lot in the culture of India and Pakistan that is communicated orally through language. So in this oral communication the silences are recognizable to the hearing ear, but invisible in texts, to the eye.

How accurate are your dances to the lyrics of a song?

It depends on what song and my consciousness during its performance. I think, however, I have never ever in my life lived up to a song. Sometimes I think it is impossible for an amateur to capture the nuances in vocals, the mixture of musical instruments and rhythm all at the same time.

That aside, any translation of a piece in dance divorces the piece from its former existence. Hermeneutics, which is a discipline in the method and theory of interpretation, is a subject that fascinates me. From this I understand that from my reading (dancing) of text, I am making certain choices about what a word or sentence means to me. I also make certain choices about how to articulate them through dance. So as I work with a text, I am myself giving it a life of its own. Thus it has an independent yet derivative existence. So to answer your question, my dances seek accuracy yet performs inaccurately. It is accurate and inaccurate.

So how do you dance to “the silences” as you mention before?

I am learning the art of subtlety in gestures and expressions when dancing. This comes across to viewers as quite boring, or lacking in good choreography. But like the power of ellipses (….) in written literature, silences, invisibility or subtlety in dance, when understood, can allude to a sentiment more than a thousand words can. Actually I struggle with this, as I tend to be very demonstrative in dance (and wordy in writing). I used to get irritated when my professor used to answer my emails in short sentences, concluding that “brevity is a virtue”.

What are the difficulties of dancing to foreign songs?

I grapple with the syntax of the Urdu language. It does not come intuitively to me the way Persian does. So when I am dancing to a piece, I do not only need to understand the words of the song. I also have to enact out the words of the song as it is found in the syntax of its sentences. This is important because the syntax is an emotive and descriptive tool. They describe the sentiments that is being evoked by the author. But I find it hard to concentrate on the sentiments in the song, when I have to at the same time, remember and lip-sync the right lyrics, understand what the words mean, and also understand where the words are placed within the syntax.

This takes a lot of time, and patience don’t come easy to me. But if I want my dance to accurately reflect the poetry in the song, then reading good translations, and understanding its arrangement becomes part of the interpretive process which I call dance.

Do you put a lot of thought in your dancing? It seems to go through a complicated process.

Sometimes, I hear a song, and feel inspired to dance to it immediately (lack of patience). So I rush through the translations. But I find myself easily attached to beautiful lyrics. So over some months, I do a number of renditions to the same song. This will often lead me to re-read translations (and re-translate them sometimes). But actually as an abstract rule, no thought is best. The business of meanings and grappling with syntax restricts the creative process in some way (allows it in others)- the body also needs some degree of freedom by simply letting it be.

I read from your blog post that your dances cannot be separated with the work you do professionally and your life. What does this mean?

If you mean ‘women’s rights work’, I mean that my dance reflects and reacts to my life situations or dilemmas I see in life. I have used dance to defy the artificial conventions of behaviour placed upon women. Dance has also been my way of rejecting women’s body as a site of honour and shame.

In one of my more powerful performances, I used the burkha (Afghan dress gear). It was coupled with a reading of Rumi’s poetry on being free in dance. The piece was not necessarily to convey the “oppressive” (I dislike this word) nature of the Afghan head-gear, but more so to show that freedom comes from the heart; that wherever you are, whichever way you are dressed, however imposed upon you may be, if you choose to dance, it is the heart that dances. The fictitious character I created took the name ‘Shaer’, my alter ego. ‘Shaer’ is a different spelling for Shayir which means poetry in hindi/urdu/persian.

I have also used dance to complain about love, to avenge hurtful comments, to identify with female strength, to understand my own body, to extract the essence of poetry, to experiment the depths of sorrow and heights of ecstasy….

Dance is interesting. It is a social activity – and for this very fact, a lot about subconscious human behavior can be exposed through the study and activity of dance. So for instance, in a recent discussion I had with my team on what ‘subversion’ meant and how it is manifested in conservative and segregated communities, I used my experience of dancing with Afghans in Afghanistan to show how Afghan women (and men) subvert from within their spatial confinements and physical/sexual repression, through dance. Some of the songs we mindlessly danced to was charged with sexual overtones; but it is performed behind the innocent garb of entertainment and fun. So dance become the medium for male/female interaction and exploration of emotionality, physicality, sexuality, and sensuality.  This is how dance becomes a site for subverting against (whether consciously or unconsciously) the relational and physical confinements of gender-segregated Afghanistan.

For the second part of your question, dance is so connected to the way I perceive and express life. When I was travelling in 2009, I was listening and dancing to classical gypsy sounds, their cackling calls, foot stomps, strumming of the banjo, patter, beating of tambourines. Now I cannot dissociate my travelling experience with gypsy songs and dancing. When I think of my 2009 travels, I hear gypsy music. In 2008, I was so fascinated by the art of mujra kathak (dance of the courtesan) from the Mughal courts. So reading Mughal history, sculpturing the landscape of mughal architecture with my imagination, vivid colours of carpets and pillars, poetry about love, lies and deception, richness in the use and play of language – was all part of the dance process.

Do your viewers understand your way of dancing?

In the past, I had viewers; people who regularly came to my shows. I used to give impromptu performances in closed-knitted underground events frequently. But now I have no viewers. In fact the more private the piece, the less I am inclined to show it. I don’t usually publicize my dance performances. I dance for myself, usually. But if someone were to ask about dance, I talk about it passionately and this normally involves deconstructing its every aspect and describing how it inspires me and why I cannot separate my existence from dance.

Have you been trained in any form of dance?

No, you can tell from my dancing that I have not.

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3 thoughts on “Interview: Dancing, an interpretive process

  1. December InterPlay Workshop titled, “Explore Your Inner Child” on Sunday, 11th December, 2011.

    For details, contact Hazel at 98200 55647 or zealheal@gmail.com

    since I am unable to post the .pdf file here.

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