I was ten minutes late to this show. Didn't let it bother me too much, given that I'd read it was "an installation of bodies in a room" and that Chettur had "free[d] the audience from the tyranny of viewing".
But there were a few surprises in store for me. First of all, the fact that this Sunday matinee show was sold out, and there was a colossal crowd (including lotsa SOTA kids) jamming up the floor:
And as you can see, the five dancers in question are doing nothing spectacular. They're facing the wall, facing away, doing extensions of their limbs, sometimes almost voguing or slow-mo yoga if you're lucky. A couple of duets and group pieces - not everyone on stage all the time, sometimes just one or two. Sometimes spreading out across the entire expanse of the ground floor, past the big doors, too.
Nothing to see. And yet people watched.
Admittedly, most of the SOTA kids left during the first intermission, leaving us with about 30 or so folks. But honestly, an hour is enough to get a sense of the aesthetics.
As for the concept behind the show... I'm a little confused. There's definitely some play with the idea of visual art in a gallery going on. There were even these price lists of dance movements scattered across the beanbags:
But for all her talk about liberating the audience, Chettur sure kept us shackled in more subtle ways. Before we even entered the performance space, we had to deposit our bags and our shoes in a coat check room (sort of a coat check - what they did was they threw our stuff into individually numbered trashbags) and once we were in the space they shushed us as soon as any of us began whispering our opinions to one another.
Oh, and even the toilets were blocked off, probably cos they didn't want us to be distracted by the sound of flushing. We had to use portapotties outside instead.
There's this article in The Hindu which tries to explain what the work's about:
Padmini Chettur’s ‘Wall Dancing’ is about concrete imagination. It is about deconstructing the significance of the wall not as a partition or a block but as a solid structure that takes the weight of ideas and emotions.
And I dunno... maybe that's a decent explanation for whoever's actually performing the work, but for the rest of us, staring at these shifting bodies over stretches of an hour each, it becomes much less about the wall and more about that weird Zen state of watching for the sake of watching. A meditative process, if you will.
And it's not that hard to get entranced. There's a pretty cool soundscape in the background too, by Maarten Visser - sometimes it's a deep bass sound of thumps, sometimes more like the wet noise of spoken scat syllables. Rather like the mnemonic syllables of bharatanatyam. (Or am I exoticising?)
And sometimes it reverts back to silence.
A bit of play with the lights towards the end, too. And then eventually everyone ends up flat on the floor.
And then curtains, bow, hurrah, everyone gets to go home.
I honestly wasn't able to engage with the show all that much. I've got a touch of ADD (according to my sister, who also claims everyone in the family has it) and I had enough problems focussing during the similarly silent and meditative Biomashup. So I didn't try that hard - I allowed myself to play with my phone, to go off for extended loo breaks, and chat with choreographer friends who happened to be in the audience.
Yet when I did pay attention, I often found myself thinking, yeah, this isn't so bad. There's no epiphany, no glorious climax or whatever. It just is.
And when I had enough, I just went off and meditated in my own way.