Steps in self-exploration
Award-winning choreographer Diya Naidu defines her work as “movement and dance-based contemporary performance”, which, at the moment, might seem to take a socio-political turn, but has, and always will, she emphasises, “be layered by spiritual and existential questions, and research.”
Although she has been dancing ever since she was a little girl, Diya thinks “finding contemporary dance was for me the beginning of really becoming a movement artiste. I loved training in jazz and kathak, but there was something about martial arts that always attracted me. I found the diploma at Attakkalari Repertory Company and auditioned mainly to train consistently in kalaripayattu. Here is where my body found the vocabulary it needed to truly express itself, with all the nuances and layers that make up contemporary existence today.”
Keeping at it
Reflecting on how dance makes her find herself, Diya says, “My first solo choreography was perhaps when I was eight or nine years old on a captive crew — my little sister and cousins — whom I bullied into performing in my homemade production. This was followed by many pieces over the years on school and college teams. But my first piece as a contemporary choreographer was a 20-minute solo called Nadir. This was made under the auspices of The Robert Bosch Award for Young Choreographers.”
She tells me that Nadir was based on the idea of ‘aloneness’ in the urban context and the schizophrenic experience of being ‘isolated’ in the existential sense and yet being surrounded by noise, chaos and the stimulus of the urban jungle. “It uses movement, dance as well as film. This piece was a collaborative experience for me. I worked intensely with filmmaker Nimish Jain, with Shymon Chelad for music and light design, with Elan studio for costume, and with the Teichmann brothers from Germany for sound. This was my first work which let me explore who I was — not just as a dancer, but as a choreographer, too. It was the seed that shaped the existential, spiritual and socio-political space I am seeking to investigate today as an artiste. It made me a better performer, taught me to conceptualise, and forced me to articulate, research and hold more conviction in my ideas. It was cathartic for me in an emotional sense as it allowed me to creatively resolve and navigate certain questions and issues of my own. It made me address many bad habits as a thinker and creator of work, and insecurities as a performer.”
Her other works like Bardo Beings and Red Dress Waali Ladki have been equally well-received. Diya points out how she draws from diverse realms. Trained in bharatnatyam, jazz, ballet, kathak, physical theatre and kalaripayattu, Diya had worked with the Attakkalari Repertory Company for seven years, where, she says, she trained in the contemporary South-Asian vocabulary that is unique to Attakkalari and its director, Jayachandran Palazhy. Diya has also trained in yoga, put herself into as many workshops as she could, including mime, training for actors, contemporary, modern and somatic practices, and biodynamic craniosacral therapy.
Talking of her technique, she says, “Earlier, my process was much more physical with a focus on dramatic presence, movement quality and physical stamina and rhythm. At the moment, though these are still important to me, I have begun to seek a more integrated performance approach involving equal engagement with voice and acting skills. Thismeans that I am grappling with ways to accommodate all these aspects into my being with harmony, ease and consistency.”
Diya is working on Rehem, a duet between two women that addresses their impulse of just being who they are as human beings and alive, not reacting to historical and current baggage of who and how a woman should be. There are other pieces of work in progress — Labour of Love: around the idea that love and hate come from essentially the same space, and Today, Don’t Insist On Leaving, a duet created with an older actor around the theme of ageing and the elderly.
Ways are many
And there is so much poetry in the way she explains how she conceives her work. “Sometimes a piece makes itself — motifs appear in dreams, a dancer/actor catches your fancy as muse, a book transports itself to the movement realm during a daydream on a train, a suggestion takes flight in one’s mind, a theme is proposed as commissioned work and yet becomes one’s own. There are many ways to dream, write, paint and dance. What seems essential is to find a personal resonance and yet tell a universal story; to be specific and yet somehow open a window to something beyond that minuscule implication. And, above all, to try and play, explore and keep at it till something makes sense in the way the artist dreamt it into being.”