kathaa kahe so kathak
thath thirathaka dhuna dhuna dhuna dhuna nakithada thakita thakita tirathaka thakita thakita tirathaka dhum dhum dhum dhum takithatakitha tharenda kira tharenda thakita tharenda thakita tharenda thakita tharenda that kiradé kiradé kiradé kiradé djidjikitha djidjikitha djidjikitha théh thram djidjikitha djidjikitha djidjikitha théh thram djidjikitha djidjikitha djidjikitha dhum
When the world is wild, here at its center I remain. We perform the Kathak Chakkars. Do you feel the Earth turn. The Universe in rotation. Head catches my breath just as I am about to loose it. A spring that releases. The heart of the cyclone they say. Oh, the wave at storm! -yet beneath its surface an unspoken silence awaits: the one within Thomas Hood’s poem. The one you can never hear and only know.
“There is a silence where hath been no sound,
There is a silence where no sound may be,
In the cold grave—under the deep, deep sea,
Or in wide desert where no life is found,
Which hath been mute, and still must sleep profound;
There the true Silence is, self-conscious and alone.”
At the heart of Akram Khan’s choreography, his dancers and his art; and from this deepest search initiated by Reggie Wilson, I met an inner-world, patient and dormant. At a time when I nearly dropped my arms and left, left loud lectures and sleepless nights… a semester off to find myself. To rekindle with my fire that was slowly dying, asphyxiated by the empty wind of society’s useless agitation. Just when I thought I was treading on surfaces, I found the entrance. The entrance to my inner-world, the sort of ocean in which I have always longed to drown. Was it dormant, or rather entrapped?
One slow inspiration fills my breast. And in a gasp, a shudder and the cry of a chalk falling to the ground, as it slices through the pounding stillness of the air./What if Vertical Road’s stone soldiers dusting away their sleep… were nothing more but the lakes of our consciousness stirred to waves, at last crashing against the rational frivolity of our schedules, freed and surging through my senses in currents?
In my mind these surging currents can only be Federico Garcia Lorca’s Duende.
I remember seeing Vertical Road in Marseille, a few years back. I shuddered when the lights died. And mourned as coats shuffled and voices rose. After that I cried for a few hours and wrote a lot, I could have wept. When the dancers left the stage and the lights died, something at my core died too. Something that had been building up , and up, up along that Veritcal Road until it was just suddenly, as a thin thread cut sharp, shtak, released. I fell into my seat, but something else remained hovering above me, undisturbed it stayed, continued its journey upwards. That night I left behind a little dust, it died with the dance and there it stayed, beyond time. And sometimes I can picture it to myself: in the empty theater, above the square platform, floating with the other particles that had been brushed into thin air. Suspended. And so there is this force that charges through Akram khan’s movement; a force so inebriating that it was stirred within me, just by watching it develop. The Duende.
“The Duende is a force not a labour, a struggle not a thought. The Duende is not in the throat, it surges up inside, from the soles of the feet. The mysterious force that everyone feels and no philosopher has explained, the spirit of the earth. Arrival of the Duende presupposes a radical change to all the old kind of form… generating an almost religious enthusiasm, the Duende that shakes the body of the dancer, a real poetic escape from this world.The duende works on a dancer’s body like wind on sand.” (Garcia Lorca 1933)
For some time now I have tried to understand, what it is that gives this work so much Duende. Here I have dispersed some thoughts…
-At the end of our representation the audience wanted to know about the presence of Martial arts within these dances. Often I too was tempted to see certain movements as directly inspired from T’ai chi ch’uan. And yet our two professors shook their heads: influenced maybe, but not incorporated.
There must be a link between the two, but then it is not so specific and straightforward:
Indeed, I quickly came to find that Akram Khan’s work requires a serenity of the soul, an intense connection of the body and mind: Peace; one drop that lies at the crest of a floating petal.
Our work revolved around the control of breath, of our center, and an intimate understanding of time and space. The choreography is so complex and intricate, so fast that if your mind moves at the same pace, it is hardly possible to comprehend and execute. The dancer must grasp the quality: melting into water to understand the ways in which it flows, or vice versa, understanding flow to embody water.
As Zeno’s paradox: thinking of time as a sandglass, sand grain after sand grain (to pursue the sand/dust and dance analogy). And conceiving of space as quicksand, compact particles, into which you carve your fingers and press against the structure, moving through space and time as if you could touch them:
“… that the flying arrow is at rest, which result follows from the assumption that time is composed of moments … . he says that if everything when it occupies an equal space is at rest, and if that which is in locomotion is always in a now, the flying arrow is therefore motionless.” (Aristotle Physics, 239b.30)
I believe the answer lies at the heart of the Chakkar spins.
Akram Khan’s work encapsulates an entire universe, this parallel paradigm that hides within, the vertical at the heart of the cyclone, the vertical at the heart of the Chakkars. The vertical on which all things rotate? Our vertical. Akram Khan’s vertical, as he swirls.
In Buddhism, Yoga, T’ai Chi Ch’uan, meditation… all perform -the point to which returns the eye, turn after turn, as the head effortlessly engages the spin -within this state of the mind that requires a single-pointed concentration. Timeless and spaceless.
The Infinite balancing over the fine line of human cognition: an ontological argument?
This Duende. This force.
As I swirl: I keep what Lali once said about rhythms. We were practicing our footwork to the rhythms (which I transcribed in the opening). Somehow we could not maintain the set pace and our speed would systematically accelerate. Lali told us how that was the nature of rhythms, they will always pick up, men have a tendency to let themselves be carried away by the rhythm, is what she said. The way she phrased it was particular since it implied that the rhythm was the main actor in this process. The man sets the pace, but ultimately the rhythm will take over, carrying away the dancer in its wake. And so, in agency and form I always wonder which comes first.
Names for one part, and language for another: music.
For instance, I was once told that my name suited me, we often say this “I couldn’t imagine you with another name!” My next question is if the name suits me or if I suit the name? In which order do these things work. Do I fit the name? Has endlessly affirming “My name is Indrani, I am Indrani” shaped my character, perception and feel. Have the soft vowels, harsh consonants repeated my whole life seeped into my character? I believe in the phenomenology of things. I believe in how every smallest detail of an object feeds into its “being”. Each chosen material, and from the humidity of the air to the poem muttered under our breath: every process has a final word in the craft.
Last Summer in Singapore Akram Khan told a masterclass, of which I was lucky to be a part, about thinking in terms of music and rhythms as a quality. We worked on Kathak basics and he taught us about the dance’s rigor and its rhythmic counts. We learned a story, which became a melody, and then a rhythm… a footwork, a dance.
And so in this same order of things: recalling a dance through numbers is quite different from being reminded with a rhythm, with a melody, with a story. The intention is absolutely everything and can change the whole quality of a movement.
Kathak comes from the Sanskrit Katha:story. Katthaka is the storyteller.
This Force again, this force that runs through the story, is the same force that will run through the rhythm and into the movement. And it is a force that burns from within, a narrative, the same tale that has sent the blood rushing through our veins.
The Duende is the destruction of preestablished order. Akram Khan’s Art, and I am here reminded too of Reggie Wilson’s work, is a reestablishment of the self. It is rejection of time and space and all the knowledge with which we have been infused for so long. (It is a remastered version of the Matrix (mind my humorous propaganda))!
Discovering this space of pure creation was for me such a revolution, because for the first time I exited the “thinking paradigm” /the paradigm of structure and knowledge and all that information as layers of clothes in water, pulling me down/ and instead entered the “feeling paradigm,” as a matter of fact, Kathak’s related form Abhinaya, which is bhaav bataanaa (lit. ‘to show bhaav or ‘feeling’). The Paradigm of a-structurality and imminence. One journey inwards.
During the 16th century, Moghul domination in India tainted traditional Kathak with Persian imports. A slim parallel can be drawn between Kathak’s Chakkars and The Sema swirls. The Sema may be an anthropomorphic god for some, a spiritual concept for other. But, for example understanding the Sema (Swhirling Dervishes) is another manifestation of the Duende within this art:
The Sema, a “physically active meditation” is the “remembrance of God. When the dervishes turn, they are focusing their attention on their inner centre and they turn around and around their own centre in this way. In turning, making a pilgrimage to that centre of our their being.” And for me, God in Akram Khan’s work is a monistic force more than anything else, it is Spinoza’s abstract and impersonal, immanent god? For me it is the Duende, it is the life of things.
When the fury of our everyday life keeps our inner ocean at bay, Akram Khan’s work is a raw struggle with ourselves. It is a struggle against the external force, against the authority of structures and rationality. This work is a strugglewith the internal force, and the acceptance/welcoming of an ungraspable irrationality in our existence, in Existence.
“Deus sive Natura” (Spinoza)