A scene from Hediyeh Azma “Saraab” which features as part of the “I m/Material” curated package for JOMBA! 2021 (Photograph Supplied)

Exploration of the in-betweenness of imaginary space and reality in Pickle Factory’s “I m/Material”

By Boitumelo Makousu and Siphumelele Gumede

Moving between fiction and reality, the eight films in I m/Material, presented on the Indian Crossings platform on JOMBA!, use space to evoke emotional experiences through dance. Through the blending of Mudras (hand gestures) and Naad (sound) with contemporary dance movements, all the dance films seek to explore in-betweenness and use imaginary space to convey emotional attachment.

The films compiled in I m/Material were curated specifically for JOMBA! by Vikram Iyengar and Kunal Chakraborty of the Pickle Factory Dance Foundation. The two curators aimed to engage the contentious term of “contemporary dance” in India and show its diversity. The eight films included utilise different approaches to choreography and film-making but are unified by their thematic preoccupation with borders and trying to cross them.

In the film Saraab, Hediyeh Azma transports us through the fluctuation between illusory spaces and reality. The loss of a loved one is a hard pill to swallow and missing their presence is deeply felt.

Azma introduces us to a space that seems real: a forest-like setting where she is dressed in white, evoking angelic senses. She later transports us through a change of sounds to a demolished house that might be where fond memories with her beloved were shared. This reminiscing draws on the emotional feelings of existing attachment; longing and searching for the presence of the loved one when they are no longer there. The birds flying provide a sense of freedom as the piece ends with her sleeping next to an image of her loved one.

Watching this work is an emotional experience reminding us that the departure of a loved one is never easy to release. We create an imaginary space where we can revisit those we have been with to feel their presence again.

The films in I m/Material are also a celebration of materiality and the link between the body and the natural world.Aahuti, directed by Lubhdak Chatterjee and choreographed by Dr. Pompi Paul, foregrounds the connection between flesh and soil, and nature at large, with a continuous scene of a fluid hand-dance against the backdrop of soil, then sky and eventually water. The accompanying sound is also rendered so that it is textural and an invisible and yet tangible element against which the hands gracefully sweep and caress. The clutching and releasing of the dark seem to be a form of ancient communication — a language of the natural world. This language of the hands receives its response from the slow movement of the grey clouds, the black birds flitting through them and the sweeping dark ocean.

The sound of a shovel cutting into the soil results in a juxtaposition of the earth as the source that all life comes from and the earth as a site of pain at the hands of humanity. Aahuti is filmed as a quiet witnessing of the conversation between (wo)man and earth; the questions are embodied in the hands and the camera’s untraceable direction. Eventually, the hands come together in a firm grip as the ocean washes over the scene, suggesting unity and perhaps even harmony between man and nature.

Underline, by Frédéric Lombard and Surjit Nongmeikapam, is another powerful feature in I m/ Material, capturing the central theme of crossing obscure boundaries in the struggle-infused choreography of the solo male dancer. He slips and falls with the changing angles of the camera as he tries to hold on to something that is not there. As he slowly sprawls his body across the ground, his movements are earth-bound and expansive as he makes large overheard circles with his legs. There is a sense that he cannot go beyond a certain point, as though he is contained within boundaries that are invisible to the naked eye. This movement is beautifully shot from a distance so that we seem to be intruding on a private attempt at escape.

With I m/Material The Pickle Factory Dance Foundation succeeds in embodying and visualising the tension of trying to cross borders that are never static, bringing in a refreshing and significant angle to JOMBA!’s overarching theme of Border Crossings. I m/Material gives us a panoramic view of the variations of “contemporary” dance in India while also engaging universal themes like materiality and physicality. The unifying threads of incorporating poetry and the embodied language of hand-gestures in all eight films effectively shows us Indian contemporary dance’s engagement with transgressing the fluid borders of time and space.



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JOMBA! Contemporary Dance Experience

JOMBA! Contemporary Dance Experience

24th annual JOMBA! Contemporary Dance Experience 30 August – 11 September 2022 (hybrid festival)