GroundXero. July 2018
A new choreography by a Chennai-based dancer speaks of caste-oppression and honour killing in Tamil Nadu, addressing the contemporary socio-political issue in a straightforward manner. How severe is the truth underlying the content of this work?
In travel advertisements, the image of Indian culture is often represented by a smiling Bharatanatyam dancer, to be immediately associated with Tamil Nadu. Even otherwise, for those who do not look at dance as an exotic entertainment practice of dressed-up painted women, or those who are actually interested in the history and science of dance in India, Tamil Nadu – in particular Chennai – has been an important space to explore. Not just as a hub of Bharatanatyam and other South Indian classical and folk dance forms, but as a city that hosted some of the pioneers of Indian contemporary dance, and has been hosting practitioners and researchers who have influenced Indian contemporary dance in definitive and progressive-liberal ways.
Chennai-based contemporary dancer Akila’s new choreographic work Teenda Teenda (தீண்டத் தீண்ட: As We Touch… or As We Get Close By…) falls in the same legacy. It is Akila’s first full-length choreography, though she has created smaller works earlier in her 12 years long training and engagement with contemporary dance and various other forms of movement and music for many more years. The work is a straightforward statement in dance, critiquing caste dominance and the many facets of its atrocities with the focus on inter-caste honour killing that plagues Tamil Nadu till date. Minimal in its composition and choreography, Teenda Teenda is an almost entirely non-verbal play between two bodies, performed by Akila and contemporary dancer/movement-practitioner Chandiran, “finding a balance between abstraction and narration, not reflecting the content through the body, but within the body.” – explains the Tamilian choreographer. The movements in this work stem from wanting to identify the body-language of social hierarchy – violence, pain, arrogance, submission, dissent and such like, exploring “how the caste-violence affects the personal space of an individual who attempt to resist with an aspiration of equality” in particular.