A sure comeback

A sure comeback

The return from a threatening injury has enabled Diya Naidu to build herself up as an exploratory contemporary dancer

A still from Diya Naidu's production 'Rorschach Touch'

A little more than a decade ago, after a severe back injury, doctors had told Diya that she may never be able to dance again. For Diya, a student of Lady Shri Ram College then, that was never an option.

“I had to do what I had to do,” she says simply, coalescing a whole philosophy in a few succinct words. And she did. She went to 18 different doctors, one of whom was honest enough to tell her that her only hope was to find relief in alternative therapies. Diya then started practising reiki and yoga. Soon, she was back on her feet. There has been no looking back since then.

Today, Diya Naidu is one of the brightest stars on the contemporary stage. After recovering from her back injury, she auditioned and joined the Bengaluru-based Attakkalari Centre for Movement Arts in 2006. “The training at that time was greatly focussed on kalaripayattu, and that transformed my body as well as my mind,” says Diya, who was in Bengaluru to present her latest production, Rorschach Touch, a tactile, sensorial take on intimacy and its many facets.

After the fall

Diya, who became an independent performer and choreographer in 2014, believes her vigorous training in kalaripayattu, dynamic yoga and other movement forms in attakalari not only healed her back, but also made her entire being “fluid”. “It strengthens you in every sense of the word; and as a woman, I found it empowering — you feel different on the street.” After eight years with attakkalari, Diya felt a need to explore her own voice, find her own reasons. She began to ask herself what is it that she wanted to put out to the world. Out of this exploration were born feminist and gender-themed works like Red Dress Waali Ladki and Hands and Face Project. “Red Dress... emerged from sheer anger; this was just after the brutal gang rape in Delhi. I felt the fury within me and wanted to rage against and question such apathetic acts. It was a shuddering, immersive experience for me as well as for my audience,” she describes.

The Hands and Face Project took on a more exploratory tone to examine the issues of class and caste within the larger canvas of gender. Diya says there can be no prescribed ways for art to work, or artistes to be sensitive to issues. “You do not have to be stereotypically political, but you can still touch upon topics that matter to us in today’s world,” she says.

So, does she think artistes have a social responsibility? “Art has to have the freedom to stay away from activism. But having said that, it has always been the function of art to reflect society, sometimes even change it. And I don’t always mean ‘serious’ art. Is not a Bollywood song art? Even if the dancer is skilled, the music beautiful and the choreography artistic? I’m a believer in popular culture, and I use it in my productions as well. Every kind of art can have a voice,” she feels.

It is perhaps this strong sense of artistic freedom, combined with her solid training in movement fluidity, that gave Diya the courage to explore a topic as risky as intimacy in Rorschach Touch. “We are assailed every day by widely opposing points of view and shrill expressions of opinion. This production asks the audience to step back for a moment, take a deep breath, and dive into what touch really means,” she explains. She elaborates the thematic concept behind the production. “There is no message... I want the audience to arrive at their own meaning of intimacy. When intimacy itself has no formal construct, it makes sense for me as a dancer to present it as a layered, ambiguous feeling.”

“We are assailed every day by widely opposing points of view and shrill expressions of opinion. This production (Rorschach Touch) asks the audience to step back for a moment, take a deep breath, and dive into what touch really means,” Diya Naidu explains.

Freedom it is

When asked if it is contemporary dance itself that allows for such unhindered exploration, Diya nods in the affirmative. “There is a certain intrinsic freedom in physical theatre; it does not impose a form but urges one to work within a context. It’s a form where it is ‘okay’ to not have any rigid structure,” she says.

Diya’s relationship with dance, too, has been as sinuous as the form that she is today known for. As she says, she was performing in local skits, street plays and on school stages during her childhood in Kolkata even before she began learning dance formally. “I used to round up my cousins when I was 12 and we used to perform in front of our family,” she recalls. Her parents were great fans of yesteryear Hollywood musicals like Singin’ in the Rain. “That was when I first saw how dance could be a spectacle, and it has stayed with me… I used to constantly move to music then, and I still do now.”

Evidently, nothing’s gonna change that!