If I Could Set With The Sun is the third project from independent interdisciplinary artist Kiran Kumar, presented as part of his larger study exploring three ancient kingdoms located within the India-Indonesia region entitled The Archipelago Archives. It combines materials from three facets of Kumar’s two-year long study, taking a closer look at classical temple music and dance traditions from Tamil Nadu and meditation from Central Java before incorporating these elements in a studio-based exploration with RAW Moves and its resident dancers. Thus, the focus of the evening is placed squarely on Kumar’s dance-making process and the result of this exploration. Billed as part reconstructive, part speculative, part archaeological, part anthropological and part fantastical, Kumar draws on the ancient dance traditions of the Odissi and Javanese, along with his anthropological study of the region, to choreograph the temple dances of a fictious archipelago similarly located in the Indian Ocean. Drawing heavily on yoga and meditation techniques, Kumar created a form of meditation dance where an increased awareness of the dancers’ natural breath, gaze and movements informed the choreography, rather than an artificial desire for aesthetics.
The result is If I Could Set With The Sun, a durational performance piece combining live performance and video installation. Split into two different rooms, audiences are encouraged to move freely between both and to create their own experience. In the first room, a solitary dancer stands in a large shallow pool of water and performs a series of 30-45 minute works. Locked in a meditative state, company dancers Matthew Goh and Jeryl Lee take turns, folding and unfolding their bodies with excruciating slowness as they melt and glide from pose to pose. Ritual dance, formed from generations of history, religion and heritage, is inherently real and grounding. To transpose this onto an imagined reality with its own fictional past gives Kumar’s work a surreal, liminal effect. This is further emphasized by placing the dancer in a large shallow pool of water, bringing to mind the image of a temple dancer poised inside a river, but as a vaguely surreal minimalist interpretation. Straddling the line between performance art and dance, the half-submerged dancer melts into his reflection as both figures undulate in perfect unison to the soundtrack of soft tinkling Gamelan music. The water magnifies every movement, the immense control of both dancers highlighted by the stillness of the clear surface while minute movements- a hand dipped momentarily in water- is enhanced by the spread of ripples that ensue.
Simultaneously, the second room comprised of a video and text installation, projected onto two separate screens. Drawing inspiration from Kumar’s travels in India and Indonesia, one screen comprised of Kumar’s sensitive ruminations and retellings of ancient legends, while the other screen showed a rolling film of ancient temples and the surrounding landscapes- wide shots of crumbling walls and rural greenery intermixed with close-ups of daily temple life: the constant ringing of a gong during prayer, a lone frog perched in a moment of stillness, the carcass of a dead animal surrounded by buzzing insects. These images and texts pulsate and flash according to the music bleed from the first room, the only sensory link between the two for the audience. Here, the dichotomy between the real and imagined once again resurfaces. By staging the installation and dance in two separate adjoining rooms, audience members are kept highly aware of what they are not seeing, offered minuscule glimpses and clues from the other room- brief flashes of light or the faint swish of water- enough to pique their imagination but never giving the satisfaction of seeing both.
By presenting the work as a three-hour durational piece, Kumar introduces an additional examination on the concept of time, awareness and immediacy. Audience members are asked to leave the bustle and distraction of the modern world to enter the quiet solitude and introspection of an ancient world, reconstructed through film and dance. Inside the space, time takes on an irreal quality, seemingly stretching and bending as the dancer remains a still point in a rapidly spinning world, focussed solely on their self-reflection and unmoved by the changes in music or audience. From the audience’s experience, watching the piece itself is a form of meditation, requiring a great deal of mental concentration to keep focus on the dancer and remain in the present. However, a small complaint would be that the duration itself comes across too tentative. At three hours, it is not meant to be a traditional dance performance, but the chosen length feels arbitrary and too short for a durational performance proper. Extending the piece would also allow for further discussion on the concept of endurance in meditation, where mental strength clashes with physical limitations as our bodies are repurposed into tools, be it for worship, entertainment or art.
All in all, If I Could Set With The Sun is thoughtfully and thoroughly conceptualized and presents us with an interesting study on the process of creation and a novel new way to explore our history and reinvent tradition. With his muti-faceted and multidisciplinary approach to art-making, Kumar aptly balances the cerebral with the creative, and shows himself as an exciting innovator and artistic force.
By Sim Xin Yi for Bakchormeeboy
Performance attended 9/6/17