Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Peeling back the layers

When Agastya contacted me last December to invite me to get involved with Pratidhwani's production of Mahesh Dattani's Dance like a Man this summer in Seattle, I remember the distinct feeling of my heart going - 'oh yesss!'

I fell in love with this play way back when and right from the first table read with the group in March, I felt it in my bones that this was going to be a terrific experience. The stimulating discussion right after the reading made me grab a copy of the script right away and I'll admit I spent a fair amount of time reading and re-reading it.

As I pulled the lists of props and costumes, I marveled at the deft composition within the two acts… the layer upon layer that Dattani has added for each character. And the myriad questions he forces us to confront within ourselves.
While it is easy to see Jairaj in the image of his father Amritlal due to the built-in transitions, they are different on so many counts. And yet, when Jai speaks about his son, he can't escape projecting his own desires by wanting to 'make him into a dancer' so he can dance on his own father's head. Talk about the eternal "circle of life"!

The other aspect I enjoyed tremendously in this play is the bouncing around of the Yin and the Yang. Such a reinforcement that each of us embody both the principles of the male and female. And certain aspects come to the fore in different situations for each of us. Like Ratna's taking charge and driving the important decisions for her family, and the nurturance that is evident in Jai's character.

This brings to mind the idea of 'Two Spirit' - a term I learned fairly recently, that is used by some indigenous North Americans to describe gender-variant individuals in their communities, specifically people who are seen as having both male and female spirits within them. This same idea has existed for a long time in Indian mythology - the "Ardhanareeshwar", which represents the synthesis of masculine and feminine energies of the universe - Purusha and Prakriti.

This idea captures the essence of this play for me… And as I sat painting an abstract interpretation of this Ardhnareeshwar, as the colors flowed, it was fascinating how some aspects of the painting were mirror images while others shaped up as unique.

Isn't this what we need to celebrate today in our world?
This melding of energies, this getting back in balance with every aspect of our own Self. And alongside, a celebration of what the 'other' is, and can be, if we move past the narrow, humanly-defined ideas of identity and gender and race, and just allow for human-BE-ing!

And just as the Shakti, the female principle of God, is inseparable from (or the same as, according to some interpretations) Shiva, the male principle of God, just as the union of these principles is exalted as the root and womb of all creation, so too is each one of us full of creative potential.

So no matter what 'choices' our parents made for us, no matter what path we may have traversed to be where we are today, no matter what anyone tells us we must or mustn't do, we owe it to ourselves to recognize our own potential and come out and play. To love, to laugh, to Live. And to share our unique art with those around us. To leave behind the labels - man/woman, black/white/brown/yellow/etc. etc. etc.

To simply, DANCE!!

Ardhnareeshwar - an abstract interpretation
Ardhnareeshwar - an abstract interpretation

PS: This painting, along with a couple more of mine and several others by local artists of Indian origin, will be on display and available for sale at ACT Theater during the run of Dance like a Man - July 24-August 9, 2015.

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