In traditional Indian Kathak, the dancer must never touch the drums. . . But what's life without a little rule breaking?
'TWO' answers this question as it presents a dancer (Raghav Handa) and a maestro tabla musician (Maharshi Raval) in a presentation where, normally, the player commands, and the dancer must follow. But not here.
For ten years, Raghav and Maharshi have built a friendship typically discouraged by the hierarchy between dancer and musician. In 'TWO', the pair flip things around and present a charming, playful testament to friendship, respect, and creative trust.
Fans of challenging tradition will be sure to lap it up.
Here, we chat a bit to dancer Raghav Handa about the collaboration, and what audiences can expect when it hits Perth Institute Of Contemporary Arts.
Tell us a little bit about 'TWO'.
'TWO' is inspired by the shifting power dynamics in any relationship. . . It is a work that questions: what is it like to make space for others; what is it like to share; what is it like to give up your power and to collaborate! If I distil it down to a few words – it’s about mateship and forbearance.
What’s your favourite thing about the concept of this show?
The challenges Maharshi and I throw at one another in this work aren’t just musical. . . They are super physical, cerebral and comical. I love the fact – what we share with the audience, emerges from what we actually do when we get together. So, the work has emerged out of our genuine interactions and not script writing.
You and Maharshi have known each other for quite some time. What has it been like to collaborate on this show?
For any collaboration to be successful, you have to begin to imagine yourself outside of yourself. Being an artist is about agency and free will. I think it is when we abdicate that agency to play – that’s when the magic happens. I approached this collaboration like an experiment, where our bodies became the agents of discovery. 'TWO' is a highly physical and a spontaneous duet and it celebrates the friendship and artistic partnership I have with tabla musician, Maharshi Raval. I was able to create 'TWO' because of Maharshi’s artistic generosity throughout this process. Of course! we’ve had our differences like any other relationship. Tell you what though, sometimes it took a lot of patience from both of us to stay open to each other’s perspective. Once we saw a way through we turned those differences into improvisational tasks, which matured into large sequences in the work.
Image © Joseph Mayers
It’s a bit of a flip on the traditional. What inspired you to mix it up?
In traditional Indian Kathak, the performance spaces are segregated. The musician calls out from a dias and the dancer responds in a game-like fashion. There is a whole mathematical structure the dancer has to learn so they can riff with the tabla player to dance variations on the fly. There is no physical interaction between the two. Dancer never touches the drums and the tabla player never locomotes into the dance space. Well humans are not systematically balanced clockwork mechanisms are they. I mean the ideas often run off the rails. Life happens. So, I wanted to reimagine a new space where the spaces run into each other and leading and following remain up for grabs. 'TWO' for me is a game of subversion to test the ordained boundaries between a tabla maestro and a dancer. Kathak gives us a set of principles that we can interact with in the pursuit of creating something unique.
No two performances are the same – what’s the biggest challenge in this?
We do have an overarching structure that allows us to improvise a lot in this work. 'TWO' is casual in its approach but highly complex in the modes of delivery. Maharshi plays live and the intensity of the rhythms vary each night. His fingers sometimes move at the speed of a freshly minted Ferrari. Whereas my legs don’t rev up that quick. So, I have to almost anticipate his next move. Which means being alert and at the ready the entire time. This work is very physical but also requires immense amounts of brain focus from us both.
Image © Joseph Mayers
How do you prepare and rehearse for something that is so on-the-fly?
Well we don’t! We tend not to undertake the conventional ‘remount’ period before each season. So, we can preserve the spontaneity – especially when 'TWO' has toured extensively. We speak to each other about our intentions behind each scene and how we got there. But, performance aspects are met as a blind date during each evening. We meet, have fun and promise to meet again!
If there was one audience take home from 'TWO', what do you hope it is?
'TWO' will make you smile and the sheer rhythmic physicality will make you dance. . . I would love the viewer to really experience what difference is! Recognise our differences, disagreements and, through that, respect for each other. They are simple ideas and yet they are highly politicised in our current global context. At times, it is easy in our modern culture to see things as 'black and white' – but sometimes there is another perspective and embracing that perspective can help celebrate that difference.
'TWO' plays PICA Performance Space (Perth) 20-23 September.