Pia Bunglowala speaks of her experience performing Madhuri Upadhya’s choreography “Matsyaangnaa” for our upcoming production “Prayog”.
Madhuri is a painter with the giant brush in her hand and with every stroke; she creates a movement world that is like a painting. In her piece, every moment feels like a still, a painting with each frame flowing into the other. This is a very strong point that she emphasizes and that really carries over to the dancers, and she has so much conviction in the image she has in mind that we absolutely believe in it. And slowly we start to become the perfect paint on the canvas of the dance that she is creating.
We started working on the piece on the railing outside the Nritarutya office and this open space really helped me to feel liberated and it gave me a different perspective as it is so different from being in a studio space. We experimented a lot with movements and we tried jumps and slides. Madhuri really gave us the time and space to feel comfortable with experimenting the movement as well as emotion. From the beginning, it was never just about the movements, it was more about moments; it was about each dancer’s individual life, our experiences, our stories, our reactions to the world we live in. I remember the first task she gave us to do, as “homework”, was to convince someone of something by just using our gestures and expressions and without using words. It could be as simple as convincing a friend to drop you home if he/she might be a bit busy with something else. I remember wondering how this would eventually help us in the piece, and I realized that for me it helped me by making me aware of how my face and body react when I am expressing a feeling or emotion. Having been trained in contemporary dance, I have always struggled with Abhinaya or facial expressions. I always thought that while emoting, it always looks fake, exaggerated and overdone. But now I am much more comfortable with it, especially because Madhuri encourages us to express in a way the suits us the best, and not to imitate someone else’s way of showing a certain emotion. She understands the subtlety of an expression, and for me now I am becoming so much more confident. It feels great!!
A few weeks ago the actual prop was prepared and we started rehearsing in a studio space. It took a bit of getting used to. I remember suddenly feeling like the prop is so hard and rough (it is like a huge metallic railing at 2 levels) while the whole piece needs to have the texture of being underwater…we are mermaids after all! But now all of us have learnt to handle the prop with ease and I can see that all of us have got so much more confidence to try some daring, new movements. I remember the day Kiran Sir came to watch the rehearsal and help us with the Abhinaya. For me that day was of special significance because he gave the most accurate, specific and informed feedback about our expressions and movements that I was filled with this new burst of energy to just work harder and make this dance piece everything it’s supposed to be. And then later that day I broke my big toe…but that’s another story!
Vinayak Joshi, who wrote the story for this mermaid’s piece and who will be working on the video aspect of the piece, came to talk to us about his idea behind the story. Being a very imaginative person, he talked to us about how he visualizes the piece and the video. He said that he believes that art should be relatable to everyone and I strongly believe this too. He also believes that it’s the small moments in life that matter the most.
I have had a few dreams about the Mermaids piece. I had this one dream in which the stage had this massive prop of about 15 feet and we were all just melting and floating down from the top to the bottom like snakes or seaweeds or feather, snaking and sliding through the bars. I know that this movement is not humanly possible to do, unless you don’t have a spine! But the uncanny thing is that the very next day Madhuri asked the dancers to work on something very similar in the rehearsals! And that’s when I really felt this strong connection to the piece and it’s growing stronger every day.
Madhuri is a choreographer who forces us to think and analyse every aspect of the dance and not just do the movements mechanically. She asks us to connect it to our personal lives so that it becomes a soul-searching journey, one that makes us ask so many questions. She asks us to ask ourselves questions which are so important that they change our whole view on life and how we live. Now I feel this dance all around me, when I hear certain sounds, when I listen to certain music, when I see the rain. And it’s when a dancer forms such a deep connection to a dance piece that it feels real and genuine and then you want to give it your all no matter what.