Sasha Waltz in Kolkata: Like Chekov, but Indian
Dancers in Rajbatiti Palace (Photo: Martin Wälde)
30 January 2013
German and Indian dancers, the chaos of Kolkata, the musicians of the Mahler Chamber Orchestra: it all belongs together. The Berlin choreographer Sasha Waltz has made a total work of art of it together with her Indian colleague Padmini Chettur. By Renate Klett
Pathuriaghata is a district in the northern part of Kolkata. It is a district from an Indian picture book, packed full of people, cars, noise, smells and colours. Old crumbling palaces tower between modest houses. The choreographer Sasha Waltz chose one of them with the lovely name Jorasanko Rajbatiti for her work Dialogues 2013 – Kolkata.
The approximately two hundred and fifty-year-old building consists of two sections: the owner family still lives in the inner house, in the dilapidated outer house – the former offices – the rooms have long been dusty and abandoned. In the big inner courtyard, which, with its pillars, arches and paled vignettes, the surrounding gallery and view of the sky, recalls an Italian Renaissance villa, stairs lead up to the sacred place where Hindu gods once resided. This house is imbued with magic; it is as if it were not of this world, as if it were sleeping beauty’s castle. Now, the Germany-India Year has, in a way, awakened it with a kiss.
A film by Andrea Kasiske for Deutsche Welle
For Germany - India 2011-2012 Infinite Opportunities and its chief organizer, the Goethe-Institut/Max Mueller Bhavan, these Waltz performances are the slightly late finale and climax (in India, Goethe must yield to the German Indologist of the 19th century, who has always been far better known). But, for Sasha Waltz, after Mumbai in 2001 and Bangalore in 2007, this is the third and by far the largest dialogue project in India. These Dialogues – also performed in the Jewish Museum (1999) and the Neue Museum in Berlin as well as the MAXXI in Rome (both in 2009) – bring together artists of different countries and disciplines.
This time, they are the dancers of Sasha Waltz & Guests and those of the choreographer Padmini Chettur from Chennai (Madras) as well as four soloists from the Mahler Chamber Orchestra and the video artist Tapio Snellman – all of them co-conspirators, all of them masters of their fields. During a brief rehearsal time, they were able to produce a performance that lets scattered sounds and moods, beauty, pain and hopeful yearning flow together to discover something under the dust of forgetfulness that was perhaps never dead. A cello suite by Johann Sebastian Bach and a string trio by Alfred Schnittke unite with delicate hand gestures, old film stills and the famous Waltz clusters of speedy legs, entwined bodies and darting arms.
Paintings that bleedIt begins in the inner courtyard: the dancers roll on the ground, they form a flat circle that unites to a human lump. Individuals free themselves of it to explore the room, open it and awaken it to life. The Indian dancers enter the sacred place as if in a procession, they throw dramatic shadows on the fissured walls. Later they join the others. The courtyard choreography is based mainly on material from various Waltz pieces that was revised and pieced together. Suddenly delicate bells sound from the gallery, the doors to the rooms open and the audience begins to wander about. No one can see everything because the rooms are all being played simultaneously.
Every room tells its story: this is how it may have been between heavy mahogany furniture, with books that speak, clocks that run backwards and hearts on worn paintings that begin to bleed.
Two clerks ensnarl themselves in the daily ritual battle of bodies and words, which neither can win because they are about nothing (Luc Dunberry, Sergiu Matis). A father wants to put his children to bed, they argue, make up and change (Juan Kruz Diaz de Garaio Esnaola, Lászlo Sandig, Sophia Sandig). An old man dreams himself back to his youth (Orlando Rodriguez, Liza Alpizar Aguilar). A young woman gets lost in a fantasy love of solitude, which goes beyond her strength (Hwanhee Hwang). These and other scenes are told in code, like tatters of dreams, and could be interpreted quite differently. Everything remains cobweb-finely unrecognizable, fragmented, like fleeting glances through a keyhole.
The choreographer as a will o’ the wispThis is what makes these images so appealing. An atmosphere of mystery and astonishment spreads through the rooms like evening fog, while from outside reality permeates with the honking horns of the eternal traffic jams, the shouts of the merchants, the ringing of the tram. This mixture has something spectral about it – as if time and space would gaze at one another in a large picture puzzle. It also has something liberating about it since both appear to smile at one another.
Just for the premier, though, the delicate balance is broken by a local puja who set up her huge loudspeakers right around the corner. The rattling broadcast destroys every hint of poetry. The audience also has its quirks. All of Kolkata is here, happy to see one another again, making dates loudly and urgently needing to pass on the good news by telephone. The dancers and musicians do all they can, but are no match for it.
The second performance is all the better. It is quite magical and inspires the choreographer to dance along spontaneously. She glides through the rooms like a will o’ the wisp, improvises, irritates, amuses both the performers and the audience. Then, the third performance is practically overrun by crowds of people. This makes things difficult, but does not harm the performance since this audience reacts with sensitivity. The thought that this is the last of the Dialogues is a sad one. Who knows? There are crumbling palaces everywhere and this evening is like Chekov, but Indian, it could surely hold its ground elsewhere as well. Sponsors needed!
This article appeared on 23 January 2013 in the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung. © All rights reserved. Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung GmbH, Frankfurt. Courtesy of Frankfurter Allgemeine Archiv