Asian Music and Dance

Unlocking Creativity: Unlocking Process, Liberating Creativity

In the last issue we looked at South East Dance ChoreoLab 2011. Another initiative for the choreographic development of South Asian artists has been in place since 2008, set up by Kadam and run in partnership variously with sampad, CICD and the Hat Factory, Luton. 

Hari Krishnan who has led the four Unlocking Creativity programmes shares his vision for UC and the insights gained over the years.

Since 2008, I have had the privilege of interacting and collaborating with a number of committed and talented dance artists from all over the world in a unique choreographic experiment, Unlocking Creativity (hereafter UC). The brainchild of Kadam’s director Sanjeevini Dutta, UC is a necessary and timely venture for serious South Asian dance artists. It enables participants to recognise, decode and experiment with received dance vocabulary; discuss the familiar problem of ‘innovation’ in culturally- and historically-specific forms of movement; and re-think ways of knowing one’s body and its relationship to space and time. The uniqueness of UC lies in the fact that it is solely focussed on process and the question of ‘how one makes work’. It equips dance artists with new tools, and demonstrates, in a concrete manner, how to invent a piece of choreography from a variety of perspectives.

“…It is solely focused on process”

One of the primary interests as a tutor for UC is to see how dancers create highly personal choreographic sensibilities by drawing from the dance vocabularies they bring into the lab. My own choreographic work consistently pushes the boundaries of bharatanatyam dance in a variety of ways, enabling new understandings. I choose to locate dance in the wider cultural sphere – in the midst of contested ideas of the body, sexuality, gender and class. My play on choreographic and staging techniques articulate a distinctly modern South Asian sensibility. I live and make my art in the West, informed by my Canadian context, and yet I seek to infuse bharatanatyam with a new creative energy that retains the aesthetic integrity of the form, and allows it to speak to a new contemporary audience. These personal meditations on the creative process and the larger knowledge systems engendered by bharatanatyam fuel my passionate and thorough participation as a member of the UC faculty.

“The intellectual questioning is balanced by practical exercises”

UC provides the participants with a safe environment for ‘freeplay’ and encourages them to take choreographic risks. The artist’s motivations, temperament, politics, desire for experimentation and openness to collaboration, along with her ability and skill are some of the key factors that impact the choreographic process. The identification of these elements and how the choreographer can harness these qualities is an insight which the mentors try to pass on to the participants. Over the four years UC has invited an array of choreographers from South Asian and Western Contemporary traditions including Jonathan Burrows, Eva Recacha, Nahid Siddiqui, Rama Vaidyanathan, Mayuri Boonham and Bisakha Sarker.

UC deploys pedagogic techniques such as ‘choreographic games’ and ‘icebreakers’ that orient the group to every participant’s extant movement vocabulary and to enable participants to think in the abstract. The larger goal of these activities is to provoke the participants to explore their intentionality (i.e. why they choreograph and what it is about the choreographic process that interests them). The intellectual questioning is balanced by practical exercises in which participants are exposed to multiple ways of generating movement. 

The linear progression of how choreography unfolds in classical Indian dance (usually dictated by the music or text) is juxtaposed against the re-arrangement of choreography in non-linear ways that allow random elements to enter the perfect symmetry of classical arrangements. Working in the abstract generates a number of key issues around process: Does the artist deliberately enter the work with a set of ideas? Is the first phase of creative process restricted to “thinking through” movement possibilities? Does the crafting of physical movement commence later? I am interested in the organic flows of decision-making, the generation of ideas and meaning from those choices, and finally the transformation of those ideas into tangible results (a finished work).

Participants who come to UC as solo ‘classical Indian dancers’ very often work in isolation which causes fatigue and a sense of intellectual seclusion. UC implodes this by offering new ways of working collaboratively. Participants are constantly encouraged to place themselves in various social environments to aid creativity through discussions and exchanges. These enable the participants to come out of their own comfort zones to consider forging interpersonal relationships in the studio as a means of deepening and maturing their craft. 

Another unique feature of UC is its focus on re-thinking the categories of the ‘classical’ and ‘contemporary’. This highly problematic dyad has been at the centre of much of my own scholarly research, which has critically interrogated bharatanatyam from post-colonial perspectives. UC encourages its participants to embrace a variety of aesthetics in the creative process. If, for example, a participant chooses to engage in the creative process by solely working within the vocabulary of one dance style, there is no pressure to pander to a kind of universal or generic notion of what ‘contemporary dance should look like’. UC is extremely sensitive about providing personal voices to participants in the studio where the emphasis is to constantly maximise one’s own potential, as opposed to creating a common yardstick for aesthetic excellence. Participants have the luxury of observing at close proximity various ways in which choreography is broken down, observing each other’s idiosyncrasies in the studio, and analysing how disparate elements of dance-making come together to create a single choreography. 

“UC encourages its participants to embrace a variety of aesthetics”

Tutoring participants in UC fascinates me because it makes transparent the frankness and integrity with which they approach the creative process. Each moment in the studio can be one of tremendous vulnerability, but UC transforms this, through innovative acts of communication, accessibility and aesthetic validation. UC participants are thus able to consider the final versions of their choreography as the result of a rich, highly-textured, and cumulative learning experience.

UC 5 2012 to be held at the Hat Factory in Luton on Saturday 28th April, will be facilitated by two past participants: Kali Chandrasegaram and Kalpana Raghuraman.

Hari Krishnan is a dancer, choreographer, dance scholar and teacher, and is artistic director of the Toronto-based dance company inDANCE (www.indance.ca). He is also Professor of Dance in the Department of Dance at Wesleyan University (Connecticut, USA). He has been as involved as a tutor for Unlocking Creativity since its inception in 2008.



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