Drunk on Dhak – a reflection on my experience at Mobius

On February 17, 2013 by pampi

Please Refer to Proposal for the Background Info to this Performance. Performance by Pampi + Kristophe Diaz. Pictures + Video below.

I am so happy my proposal was accepted and that I had this opportunity to touch base with performance art again. Many thanks especially to Joanne and Jed for being so warm, kind, and helpful.

around 2/17 8pm
I realize now that my experiment failed. I originally intended to call the Devi to descend without spectacle and fanfare but my ego got in the way. something painfully meaningful did come out of this process the night before. i think i could not deal with it and clouded myself in amnesia of the original intention and instead opted to distract myself with something pleasurable, the creation of a temple space for my body. I lost my simple plea to Devi. I do not think She heard me. How could She? i could barely hear myself. I got lost in the spectacle I created.

I say all this because I don’t know where exactly to begin. Until Kristophe shared some of the photos he took during the performance, I had little sense for the execution of our intention (he did warn me to not change things up, but you know when things become forever changed?). It’s been a long time since I’ve been in this zone – not knowing what exactly I put out. From the look of it, the visual aspects relayed well my desire for a sensorial distraction. The only thing I am sure of is that I was intending to create a spectacle (because i didnt know how to salvage my original intention in face of the stark reality of an unwelcome memory) and I know I did. This spectacle served to compromise my attempts at dealing though I think it was a long protective measure I take when confronted aggressively – a flight so to speak to camouflage my desire to fight. I fought to say sometimes the tigress malfunctions and turns on the Devi. My flight was that I was perhaps not ready to sit with the rawness of that thought.

The remaining article was written last night and I can say relays my false intention well. It is painful to acknowledge I performed the hollow shutting up of the Devi in me.

I can only say I will try again to release her from the tigress’ unconscious clutches.
around 2/17 1am
Wow. What an experience! And the added bonus was being paired with Greg Josselyn. So many astonishing parallels and our aesthetic sensibilities couldn’t be more different!

Last night was my first time in twelve years that I did something more in the performance art realm than other dance and theater activities I’ve been dabbling in for the past few years. Because of this, I am well aware I threw in a bit of everything in the piece I created last night.

Therefore, in this reflection, I would first like to write down my intention for this piece and then reflect on what I witnessed as a performer. the elements I found moving. how those elements made me feel and why I think they worked. and, in doing so, also those elements that did not work for me and why.

I was deliberating till the last minute.

Why a spectacle?
I wanted to create a dynamic installation to represent my head space. It was very much intended to resemble the colorful fast moving temple that is my mind. I took this as an opportunity to (finally) visually explore the ideal temple I would like to dance in.

The split level between the projection and the floor rope lighting was perfect. It speaks to the split between my mind and my wild. My mind is this fast moving projection of images and words, color and sound, all juxtaposed lightning fast and selected with nimble indulgent delight. My wild is spare, stark and a space I tend to have a hard time sitting in. Last night was no exception.

My mind: (Video art by Pampi)

My wild: (Photos by Kristophe Diaz)

Video from Performance (by Umang Kumar)

The spectacle also speaks to my motivation (and insecurity) as an artist. I believe that when I want to share something I always need to call attention to myself with a distraction. I may not feel I am enough so I do and make a lot to entertain (some of this is a sincere desire to make everything I can in case I never have a chance again, but mostly it is because I am anxious I am not good enough). I do not trust the quiet in me, though the few times I am able to in performance, I’ve been moved beyond anything I’ve ever known.

Culturally, there is much spectacle in temple dance. I am compelled to recreate those gorgeous pyramid temples I have only ever seen in magazines. The bell, the projections of Devi, the sound of dhak, my fake dhak, and smoky incense transformed the space effectively.

The Devi lore I was recounting also has many iterations of spectacle. What can be more epic than calling a warrior goddess to come down? I mirrored this not only in the projection art and my movement but also in vocal story-telling. Visually, I had a blue canvas on the ground centered onto which I would paint the Devi with my body

The Devi herself is stunning. She is embedded in my mind’s eye. She informs my wild. It was not enough to digitally create composite images of her. Of course I had to paint her as I used to so many years ago. I wanted to paint her in the body of the woman I have become – at an age I have always imagined her to be. I wanted to paint her by bodily rocking (how I get into my meditative space, something I have been doing since I could support my head) – what a great way to make a print!

Why story-telling?
IMG_2969I am a cultural artifact. I feel I had to declare it up front. I’m always explaining the old story and the new ones I make up. I knew I couldn’t just dance it out. Lately, I’ve been experimenting with voice and song as I move. This performance would be yet another iteration. As the parts of the video marked different parts of my performance, I had a running script, but decided to leave it to myself to say or not say, move or not move, let things happen or not. The script was to embolden me. What I would do on site was another thing entirely.

Indeed, part of this was exploring cultural symbols freely as a performance artist – as I was taught by some of the original practitioners of performance art, I was taught to distrust symbols. Twelve years later, I am able to voice that everything I know is saturated in 5000 year old culture of symbols – how can I even think of cleaving myself? What’s rich to me in all this is that all these symbols are mostly of my own creation as a second generation American making up her own cultural identity (- what can be more performative than that?)

Why temple dance?
My Didu informed me in a recent phone call, “but Pampi, there are no more temple dancers here.” “But, Didu, how can you say that? I’m an American temple dancer.” She giggled.

This is the form I take on that people have been most responsive to. Perhaps it’s a blessed mix of orientalist mysticism, the transformative potential of an unknown movement and story-telling form, and my ability to convey myself passionately through my body, but so it is.

If my head space is a temple, I must indeed be a temple dancer

My intention, however, was to break from moving as a temple dancer. Moving in a set form bothers me – from all the teachings I’ve had in performance art. I must move from the prescribed to the real.

Dress informs my movement. I knew dressing as a temple dancer would make this enormously challenging. Given I intended to paint with my body, I made a white temple outfit in five minutes of measuring and cutting. It was a translucent draped perfection.

My intention was to wear white (a color of death, purity, monkhood), have it be somewhat transparent and suggestive (a tiny blouse and dhoti ensemble), and such that it can be disposable (i intended to roll in devi’s colors: saffron, red, and white), and upon lying in paint, to enter the wild, if only in color, as a wet tiger.

Why erotic?
Temple dance is inherently sensual, even erotic. The idea that the spiritual can be gained through practices in erotic love is not new in temple thinking. It has certainly been suppressed for a few millenia. The (contemptible) Devadasi system has a conflicted history. Because this was so last minute, I could not think through my intention, but I knew that I must present myself in this way outwardly despite my internal struggles with presenting myself erotically.

I got to perform at Mobius!!!

The good
I finally made a temple that befits a temple dancer that works with digital mixed media. yay me! My next investment will be a tripod table and projector.

I painted Devi (and with my body!) after not really full out doing a pictorial representation of her since I was 12!

The bad (and nothing is ever really that bad when you try)
as a performer, i was really struggling with the scripted aspect of the looping movie. in retrospect, as i’m used to doing dance pieces no longer than 12 minutes, i made a 12 min video, so i really felt i coudnt quite relax (also afraid of destroying the white floor – the painting was necessary but added quite last minute)

This anxiety may have cut into my ability to connect with myself, and through this, the audience.

Making the composite images in the last part of the movie also brought up some super emotional things that happened recently that i havent quite dealt with – and as i had just finished these images the day before, i felt compelled to share some aspect of it – i was struggling with how much to reveal in performance, whether i am ready to, and how to be real with it all. This raw negotiation may have actually worked to distance me further in performance.

and the… Kristophe!
Though Kristophe’s performance was not directly considered, it was a happy accident. He was indeed very much a part of this process. Though he didn’t perform in an official capacity, he was a temple guard of sorts, setting things up to create the spectacle behind the scenes leading to the event and quite visibly at the event, encouraging me to try things performatively, recording the happening. It was important for the audience to see him (though how can one miss a cuddly man of his stature excitedly running around a tiny space?). No temple dancer creates a spectacle by herself. She has a crew.

Kristophe and I had only two weeks to develop the performance aspect of this piece and met three times within those two weeks, the first as a final studio shoot, the second two as tech runs. Up till that point, we had two prior studio shoots, the first being the first time we met in person to discuss a collaboration. So, yes, we discovered we work well! This enthusiastic and dynamic working relationship and friendship is perhaps the most important experience of this whole process for me.

3 Responses to “Drunk on Dhak – a reflection on my experience at Mobius”

  • pompi watched your dhak dance in y tube though i am not an expert in this field but i think i have certain opinion regarding your performance which i will share with you your effort is a good try but not perfect ten yet it has come from somebody who has grown up in completely in an alien place taking not only interest in this dying culture but performing it with such grace itself is amazing Back home how many of current generation will take interest in this traditional bangla culture is doubtful So from my side hats off to you Now to come back to the main theme just what is dhak dance Dhak (tradition drum)accompanied by dhunuchi performed by devotees in front of Devi Durga with smoking mixture of camphor incense tinder and coconut husk called dhuno poured inside a clay pot called dhnuchi While the Dhakis carry the whole instrument and hang it like a necklace and with two stick beat either side of the drum with rhythm and dance by going backward and forward turning and twisting the dhunuchis rest the clay pots on his head or hands and sways to the beat of dhakis in front of Devi Durga This sort of traditional dance foam of art is extremely energetic and ofcourse physical and herein lies your deficiency Certain area of this foam of art can only done by men who are stronger than women as they have to carry the entire instrument while performing What i could make out was that you were not carrying the instrument you were just playing the beating stuff and therein you lost the intensity of the entire event To create the mood of the atmosphere the sound of the dkak must be more energetic and loud or forceful i somewhat felt that the whole event lack that the vibrant energy which it carries through your performance The sound too was very weak though the background scenario of Durga Ma was nostalgic My next reservation was your attire As somebody who has spend substantial time in Kolkata watching endless Durga puja i felt your costume did injustice to the whole event Thr actual dhakis dont dress the way you did They wear white dhoti with white kurta and tie a sort of gamcha on their waist so visually also there were some flaws though the effort was worth mentioning Last but not the least the facial expression was and eye movement did not match with the reality The Dhakies and the Dhunies are very forceful with their unique style which we are accustomed with so your performance looked good from surface but insight of the whole dhak and dhunuchi and the folk tradition was missing There was no sign of dhunuchi dance. This folk culure is a fusion of both dhak and dhunichi and when one is missing how can the other survive It is a good try indeed I am your admirer and the views expressed here is not as your critic but as your friend More about your dance next time

    • Thank you for your thoughtful reply, Anamita. Just a quick note, I don’t strive to recreate authentically. I strive to recall memories with what I have access to here. In my reflection, I made it clear I was out of my element. It is a tricky place in performance when you cannot sit deeply in yourself. I did not own much of what I projected. In any case, there is always a next time. I believe myself to be as strong and wiry “as a man” proportionally, certainly mentally. The purpose of the performance was not to play or dance “like a man” – only to reclaim some space. I can certainly move quite energetically. You just have to come see me dance live one day.

      • And in the video I actually was laying dumbuk, a smaller middle eastern tabla, but zoomed in purposely to not show the drum ;)

Leave a Reply