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At Experimenter, a unique act about the ecological crisis

Detritus is a multiform performance that uses the body to comment on waste, remnants of refuse, and our collective impact on the environment

‘Detritus’ offers an opportunity for this rare chemistry to emerge between the performer and the audience
‘Detritus’ offers an opportunity for this rare chemistry to emerge between the performer and the audience

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The white cube space of Experimenter, Hindustan Road, Kolkata, has been hosting a very unique performative work since the beginning of June. Titled Detritus, it has allowed the audience to get a glimpse of the process that has gone into putting together this multiform contemporary performance. Rehearsals, notes, dialogues and construction of the piece have been laid bare for the audiences. And hence, the visitors have formed a connection with the performers and the concept even before viewing the finished piece. The drawings and rehearsals have allowed them to understand the deliberations of the performing team, thus making for a more in-depth and immersive experience.

Detritus is part of the Experimenter’s programme, A Site for Encounters for Drawn from Practice, and has been conceived and curated by Paramita Saha, choreographed by Surjit Nongmeikapam and Prashant More. The dramaturgy is by Diya Naidu and music by Karshni Nair. The finished piece is all set to be performed this evening at the gallery.

The performance emerges from the interaction of the space and the body. Together, they are used to comment on waste, remnants of refuse and our collective impact on the environment. “ Through its participatory nature, the work invites viewers to contemplate space for all living and non-living elements that share space and time with us,” mentions the curatorial note.

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The connections between the various team members go a long way back—each of which have organically led to Detritus today. During the early days of the pandemic, Naidu started the ‘Circle of Resilience’, which brought together artists from across the country to share what they were feeling and to imagine shared spaces online. Saha was one such participant. “It changed a few things for me. I started my initiative, Art Alone Together, at the same time, which was an online series of weekends on Instagram, where we kept inviting people to send in their art. It led to a full-fledged online festival in June, which was one of its kind,” says Saha, director, Artsforward, an ideation agency that designs strategic encounters between businesses and artists.

This then led to an online portal, Continew. All the dancers were at home, with no space to train or the opportunity to meet their teachers in the studios. Saha decided to curate a list of teachers. Anyone could enrol for online classes with them. This built strong relationships between people in the contemporary dance space. Students started logging in not just from Kolkata but from London, Switzerland and other parts of the world. 

When things started opening up, these teachers were invited to the physical space for further collaborations. “With its continuous training opportunities over the last year, Continew has been able to create a cadre of Kolkata performers ready to be integrated in the making and performance of a homegrown piece such as Detritus,” says Saha. It has really contributed to how the piece has developed, with the two choreographers, six dancers, dramaturge, working together since then.

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It’s interesting that this piece is taking place in a gallery as opposed to the conventional performing venues. Priyanka Raja of Experimenter and Saha have known each other a long time. It was serendipitous that Saha wrote to her about the concept at the same time that Raja was contemplating the ‘Drawn from Practice’ series. Both wanted to give the process and product equal importance. The unique architecture of the gallery—with its L shape and a pit in the middle—has played a significant role in the way the piece has developed.

 “We have absorbed all the qualities, textures and surfaces of the gallery. When you work in a studio space, it is very straight—four walls and a floor. At Experimenter, there are so many walls and so many floors, hence we have a multitude of spaces and many dimensions to work with,” elaborates Saha. That has played a huge role in the way Imphal-based Nongmeikapam built a story, which was then filled in with movement by Prashant More from Goa. “Had we made this piece somewhere else, it would have turned out differently,” she adds.

The process was initiated online with the Detritus team interacting closely with people working in the field of sustainability and the environment. For instance, artist-scholar-researcher Nobina Gupta of Disappearing Dialogues spoke to them about the East Kolkata Wetlands and their importance. There were sessions on ecology, indigenous and natural technologies of purification, precarious conditions of the wetlands and its communities. 

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This was followed by interactions with Marc Rees, a creator and curator of installation and performance from Wales UK, who artistically responds to place and community. “Marc took us on a cognitive journey to our childhoods to create maps/patterns based around home and locale and the emotional connections to it. We then explored these ideas through movement. We then observed how the landscape had been altered with time,” mentions the curatorial note. These sessions were followed by detailed discussions around green policy, consumerism, relationships between art and activism, and related ideas.

The piece offers a whole set of questions that the performers are putting to the audience, as opposed to being a show where the audience has a more passive role of merely viewing. “We want them to think and for their senses to be heightened. How much should I consume? How much space should I take up? How much space should I leave for people co-existing with me and also for the next generation? These are just some of the questions,” says Saha.

From 7 June onwards, the process was open to anyone who was interested to watch. However, a dancer posed a rather interesting question to Saha—that they went through such an internal process and were suddenly being asked to share this with the audience. How could one allow someone into such an intimate space? Saha asked the team members to search for three parts within themselves—of the person, the dancer and the performer. 

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“As a human being, we have realised certain shifts in our thoughts about sustainability. The waste generated in the last twenty days of work has been less than 500 grams. As a dancer, with years of experience and memories in the body, you are now engaging with this newly found wisdom. Now is the time to share this with the audience. And that is where the performer comes into play,” elaborates Saha. 

The dancers might have gone through an intense process of transformation in the past few days, but the audience does not know it. “How do you include the audience in this? Can that begin a process in them? Detritus offers an opportunity for this rare chemistry to emerge between the performer and the audience,” she adds.

Detritus will be performed at Experimenter, Hindustan Road, Kolkata, on 12 June, 6pm-7.30pm

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