I had a dream and the image I saw was so powerful that it stayed and that was the starting point for Agent Provocateur
Director's eye is a series that looks at capturing the Director's perspectives and approach of their work. The outcomes are bound to vary depending on the audiences state of mind and body, but what we can seek to understand is the director's vision, process and perspective. We start this series by having a chat with Sujay Saple, Artistic Director of Shapeshift Collective, Mumbai.
Do you know your body? Does your body know..? How can we respond about the way we're feeling through the body? How can we access muscle memory and understand body conditioning, do and dont's and how that has shaped us over time. I had a chat with Sujay from Shapeshift and thought I'll paint the director's perspective about the performance, the challenges, the ways of making and aspects of the creative process.
Agent Provocateur explores our relationship with the status quo through the body as a site of exploration, finding, questioning and resistance. I think we all under estimate how much stimuli we receive with our bodies - How is the body processing, storing and remembering various moments. The process of using the body to express can go beyond the basics and access material that deeply concerns you and your relationship with the context that you operate in. When performers explore themes with their own bodies, they're really putting themselves out there and being brave, bare, fierce, naked and vulnerable. This allows the audience to be able to relate and emote with the performers, forming a narrative that we want to own.
Post Moonfool (Sujay's Previous Project), he has been taking time to figure out what it means to make work in times like these. While exploring his own artistic practice, he had a dream - a singular powerful image that would haunt him until he decided to make a performance out of it. This is the image of the SAFFRON SPINE. The spine obviously has metaphors of standing up, fighting fear and being present in the moment - Sujay explores this with the hybridity of dance, text, movement and music.
I have been an endorser of work that is hybrid and interdisciplinary. By bringing together a performer, a dancer and a musician, Sujay is working in that space of mutual sharing, learning and co-sharing the performance space. I do believe that this is a great way to tread unexplored territory and be open to new findings. Sometime, I feel like if everyone brought the same skills to the room, you'd rather be doing a solo :-) I really like it when directors find news ways of devising movement. In this piece, Sujay came about a Lynch map of India, plotting the various lynch sites in the country. The team then plotted the points on the map on the body and then used that as a starting point for the movement. This I believe allows the performer to go beyond movements that the body is familiar with and completely explore a new body landscape.
As artists in today's socio-political landscape, though we may be distanced from various incidents of violence and intolerance, we cannot escape them. We have to process it through our work, to confront problems and raise questions, making the personal, political and the political, personal - The boundaries are certainly blurring.
Thank you Sujay for sharing your perspectives and All the best to you and your team. I hope the performances go really well.
I'm quite excited about this one. Go Bangalore and support this piece of work.
- By Aruna Ganesh Ram
30 September, Saturday - 3:30 & 7:30pm
1 October, Sunday - 3:30 & 7:30pm
Ranga Shankara Theatre, J.P. Nagar
Tickets on www.bookmyshow.com
Enquiry: +91 8879092887
"All signs and sign systems should not produce equally strong signifiers all the time, or the spectator will experience sign overload and confusion. Some order of priority needs to be establidhed for literally every moment in the performance" (Whitmore:1994)
Whitmore, author of Directing Postmodern theatre and professor in theatre arts focuses on shaping signification in performance. He asks us to look at every gesture, sound, movement or text as communication of meaning to the audience. Through his book, he urges practitioners to push boundaries to explore new ways of signifying meaning.
Over the last few months, I have been exploring performance composition through workshops in Chennai and Bangalore, working specifically on aspects of space and shape, looking at how shapes within space generate meaning. The challenge was to look at these elements and vary them in size, intensity and scale to create compelling performance moments. From my experience of facilitating these workshops, I would like to share with you some of the ideas that emerged in the process of performance composition.
Looking at spatial extremities: Whitmore talks about space in four kinds of distances: intimate, personal, social and public. The distance between two bodies/objects in the space influences the relationship between them. While public distance will applicable when a politician is waving to the crowd, intimate distance would apply to a couple having a conversation in bed.
As part of the composition workshop, we explored how power structures can be communicated using spatiality. Expansion and contraction of physical space gave us an idea of performance intensity, depth and relationships. Complete contraction also meant coming into intimate and personal distances with one another. This triggered a bit of discomfort for the participants, pushing them to explore distance on a vertical axis, creating levels within a contracted physical space, converting intimate distance to personal distance.
In one of the workshop sketches, a duet about power struggles, the audience was located in a tiny corner of the room, seated really close to one another. The action took place right in front at a diagonally higher spatial position. The audience was consistently looking up at the action and were being spoken down to - a great spatial expression of power. The concept of proximity was coupled with expansion/contraction and that amplified the movements of the performers even though they were playing it subtle. When the performers were very close to the audience, even a small gesture seemed big.
This made me realise that one of the first decisions in composition would be to assess the distance between the audience and performance space. This distance will then dictate how much expansion is actually amplification and how small the contraction can potentially be. While the performers may have chosen to play an intimate distance, they must also be aware of what distance they are creating between themselves and the audience and for the audience from one another. Amongst the audience, I experienced a personal distance with the others, which made me conscious of my presence in the space and therefore influenced the way I interacted with the sketch.
Another very interesting aspect in the space was the use of smell. As the audience entered the performance space, a smell of musk enveloped the air, sending signals of heightened male energy. So gender engulfed the space through smell. Through the course of the performance, the smell of musk slowly faded, contracting space for the audience. It was wonderful to notice how multiple senses were engaged and how each of them could influence the audience’s perception of space.
Playing with shape and influencing space: Inspired by Anne Bogart’s Viewpoints, the workshop explored expressive gesture as a way of creating shape. Participants used their bodies to create an idea, emotion and concept. The beauty of body based expressive shapes is that it is open and left to the interpretation of the audience. Shape allows the participant to respond to a stimulus through the body within a given space. For example, if an actor stands in an exaggerated shape really close to you, would that influence your body shape within the space? Depending on the narrative that you choose to communicate, triggered by the body, you will either decide to play and expanded or contracted shape.
When shapes come together, the scope of expanding/contracting increases. This way shape influences space and space inspires shape. When two or more bodies in the space do the same thing in a coordinated way, what happens to space? Does it give you a feeling of expanse or can it communicate proximity? Aural volume, pitch, tone and text also contribute to creating an illusion of space, by adding layers to the shape.
Repetition is another key to shape. If an action is performed 25 times instead of once, will it mean something different to the audience? Can it amplify the meaning because it was repeated so many times? Or does it become redundant?
What was a big revelation for me was that when you push participants to look at performance space differently, an element of immersion happens, bringing the audience into your work or constructing your work around them – the decision of where they are placed becomes critical.
Apart from Space and shape, we also looked at forced inclusions within performance composition, which I will be writing about in my next post.
So what does it take to put your personal truths out in public space? You are sharing a story, a mood, a moment - through performance.
We are all made of stories. Stories of various kinds, multiple genres and different moods. In a way, our stories define who we are. The choices we make within our own plot, the characters that we choose to play through time, the different moods that we help create, our value systems, the multiple emotions that we go through - all these end up defining and constructing our personal narratives.
In August 2014 (Bangalore), I was in a workshop with 4 people- a theatre actor, a psychologist, a behavioral trainer and a nuero linguistic practitioner. I was already beginning to feel like we had a performance there. It Just sounded quite cool. Through the 2 day workshop where we worked on body, gesture, space, memory and audience relationships, we had created about 30 seconds of material per person - a combination of expressive gesture, sounds, movement and text.
The question for me was: How can these fragments come together in performance? For a while now, I've been very interested in exploring personal narratives through visual performance. Additionally, I also explored the idea of immersion in personal stories. The idea of an audience not just watching the story but being drawn into the environment in various ways.
With the material generated at the workshop becoming the starting point for further devising, we started further exploration. Combining chance happenings, associations, spoken word and free writing, we started generating more performance material. At this point in time, I honestly had no clue what the performance would be about. I had a guideline, a process that I trusted and four committed performer/devisers.
Through the initial devising sessions, we focused our energies on creating visuals, both static and dynamic and was using these visual cues to generate performance context. We would then quickly take notes about what the visual is communicating and see if we could further build on it in any way possible. In two weeks time, we had a very clear direction of where the piece was heading. We were working with concepts of challenge, hope, love, violence and romance. The stories emerged. The stories of four different women experiencing struggle & strength, hope & despair and detachment & obsession.
What would you do when you are alone and attacked?
How can you move on after a testing relationship?
Are you now in a position to stand up to what's going on? Do you have a voice?
How can your hope and faith build you up, after you crumble?
A moment of memory captures and brings to life these four moments through performance. We've designed this in an experiential way, through touch, taste, sight, sound and smell - by engaging the multiple senses.
We invite you to come experience these stories and share a moment with us.
In this blog space, we talk about performance processes, interdisciplinary practices and various ways of creating performance and engaging audiences.