This visual gallery explores and highlights the conflicts, dilemma, strife, joy and freedom (or not) of walking as an Odissi dancer in the city of Delhi. Odissi is a traditional classical dance form of India. It hails from rituals & practices from temples, everyday rural lives, community celebrations and sculptures or frescos from architectural structures. Archaeological evidence dates Odissi back to the 2ndcentury BC. A key vocabulary or elementary movement of Odissi is Chaarior gait or walk. The dance is formed of various stylized Chaarisused to navigate through the performance space. Traditional dancers belonging to smaller towns and villages have practiced this classical Indian form for decades, spilling it over to dancers in cities in the recent past.
However, walking has become a restricted act in the urban everyday life. Cities barely cater to the ease and accessibility of walking. Contemporary infrastructural developments create roads and ways for public & private transportation to infest spaces that allowed the freedom to walk. People are mostly rushing to work which takes away from the idle hours of walking the streets. As an urban Odissi dancer, I started investigating the various new walks of the city alone and along with co-dancers. While this project has been a performative exploration, it has also given birth to a photographic essay driven by my friend and photographer Aditya Kapoor. This work is a selection from an ongoing larger project, “Project Chaari”. It has been developed over 1.5 years now.
The performative exploration seeks new movements and ways of walking inspired from the lives of people on the streets of Delhi that can become urban Chaaris of Odissi. By stretching and creating new vocabulary within the traditional dance form, it will hopefully place Odissi in a contemporary discourse within the realm of performative arts. As a dancer I would like to be challenged by, the form, the viewers around and the public space that I choose to engage with. As a citizen I wish to create a place for larger artist’s collective within the urban city to be able to actively engage with common person to shape new socio-cultural habits and practices.
This is the story of two women, Moina & Tiya, on an adventure in their own city, discovering new ways of walking, playing, jumping & skipping while looking at other people around them on the streets who seem to behave differently than they do. Moina & Tiya walk differently. Sometimes the city seems alien to them and at other times they are alien to the city. But they live in this city for years now. At times either Moina or Tiya find themselves caught in unknown spaces alone, negotiating the city. Will they ever find a point of reconciliation?
Hide and seek: If we hide then someone will seek us. If we seek then we will find something hidden. On a hot afternoon we went secret hunting. PC: Aditya Kapoor
The Dog Leads: The dog claims the road as much as these two women. Three of them queue up to walk through the non-walkable streets of Delhi, in their own Chaaris. PC: Aditya Kapoor
Underground: It is one step at a time for Moina, as she transcends from being an Odissi dancer in the city to a city girl being an Odissi dancer. PC Aditya Kapoor
The Clasp: Moina’s solitary exploration continues. As seasons change the public gaze and the internal curiosity of the dancer seem to be in tandem. PC: Nishant Mehta
We Play: Their gazes have always been antithetical to the public gaze and norm. While the public gaze is channelled to look through a skewed lens, Moina and Tiya continue to challenge this with a wide-eyed perspective. PC Aditya Kapoor
Crossroads: The streets have no place for her. She strives to get to the other side in her own gait. But it’s not rightful. She can’t do this. Does she not know she may lie dead? But alas, the loss of a dancer does not bear heavy on anyone. PC: Aditya Kapoor
Still and Stillness: Rhythm in motion in a chaotic galore. This image captures the illusion of Moina almost meeting someone in the ever so moving and fast paced spaces. However, the walk is a lonely one, caught in juxtaposition. PC Aditya Kapoor
Resistance: It’s a busy work day in Delhi. Moina or Tiya choose to stay still and occupy a crowded crossing. Is walking an individual act? Does the city walk unknowingly on its own? Have we lost the collective resilience in walking together? Are we so lonely? In stillness she finds the cosmic energy of movement. PC: Aditya Kapoor
Moment of breath: One a moment and only one of stillness is what I ask for as I traverse through the concrete jungle we have created. PC Nishant Mehta]
Illusive: The night falls. Moina & Tiya are tired. They stand by a dug-up dusty city lane darkened further without street lights. Chanced headlights from passing vehicles light up the frame to capture their stance. This moment triggers an unknown pang. PC: Aditya Kapoor
Concept & Direction: Manishikha Baul
Photographers: Aditya Kapoor & Nishant Mehta
About the artitst: Manishikha, is a dancer aspiring to be an independent-performer-maker heading zestfully towards her 40s. She has practiced Odissi for the most part of her life, managed arts organizations and messed with the corporate honchos. Currently she is undergoing some non-normative transformation through theatre studies. She is inspired by the many walks (literal meaning) of people in cities and is working on her debut project, Chaari. Her teachers have been Sutapa Talukdar, Mandira B. Singh, Madhavi Mudgal, Rahul Acharya and Navtej Singh Johar. She presently resides in Delhi and her adda has been Gati Dance Forum for the past few years. If you bump into her on a street, market, or station, know that it is but a character from Chaari.
All rights are reserved with Project Chaari team.