When playing, the music is trying to conquer your thoughts, allowing your vision to improvise. It succeeds, only till her dance moves hold your attention. But, attention ditches the music, to be loyal to those moves that flow like water, transferring emotions to weave a story. This brings forth a silence, which is later disturbed only by a discussion between the dancer and her director.
Neelam Mansingh Chowdhry (centre) with her troop of artistes, (L-R) Hema, Gick Grewal, Amarjeet and Ramanjit. HT Photo
Neelam Mansingh is the director here, directing 29-year-old dancer Hema Sundari Vellaluru from Bangalore, who will be accompanying her to London for play Nachiketa, a contemporary chamber opera — an unexplored territory for Singh as well.
As Hema finishes describing her version of the act, it’s a signal for Ramanjit Kaur to fill the space that Hema left vacant. With Raman, also arrives a promise — to introduce and interact with feelings that are set deep. Besides her dance moves, which are accompanied by her expressions, she brings various elements such as leaves, milk, cloth, egg and water with her. When Hema left behind a silence, Raman leaves you with multiple thoughts. You are still discovering their meaning when her director starts a dialogue about her expressions, saying, “It’s not for me to understand everything that’s happening. For me to understand what an actor is doing is not the yardstick. To me, it’s completely irrelevant, it’s more important that it should provide a good experience, where I can state what is decorative, unnecessary and what can be chiseled.”
Ramanjit Kaur interacts with deep-set emotions through her act. HT Photo
Her words force another thought, and she adds, “Understanding is a myth. Sometimes, we don’t even understand ourselves. So, why would we want to understand an exercise? For me, that is of no consequence; then, it becomes too linear. I’m interested in ambiguity, uncertainty, and non-clarity. I mustn’t treat the audience as unintelligent, where everything has to be spoon-fed. I don’t move towards clarity.”
It’s a workshop of opera Nachiketa by Ariel Dorfman in Libretto. Various other actors such as Vansh Bhardwaj (aka Rocky, who would be joining the troop in London), Gick Grewal and Amarjeet are also attending the workshop. As Singh leaves for London by the end of this month, the performance there would feature artistes from Britain and India. She says, “Opera is a new kind of experience for me. I’d be trying to create the narrative of the opera through movements and images, as the whole play is about memory, loss, dialogue with death and a child soldier. As the theme is based on an Indian character, they wanted an Indian director. Even though the theme is Indian, the whole perspective is very western; understandably so. As the whole problem of the child soldier has been in Bosnia, Sri Lanka and Maoist areas. Then, there is a child prostitute. It’s very elemental. The journey between life and death is elemental. Death is not terrifying, it’s something very philosophical.”
Hema Sundari Vellaluru. HT Photo
Opera being a new terrain for her, Singh says, “I’m watching a lot of operas on YouTube to know more. Every play I do is a learning experience, but it’s a bigger leap of faith for me this time. Here, actors are free from the burden of text. It really gives flight to the imagination. Once I saw Ibsen’s play, The Master Builder, by a group from Kerala. The two-and-half hour play had only 10 sentences. That was the best I could ever understand that play. I don’t think words are the only means of communication.”