LGTB rights on the charpoy

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Jor Bagh 24, New Delhi

The New Delhi dance performance „Queen size“ sends out a strong message. It is not only a close encounter between two male bodies but also between artists and audience, between private and public sphere, translating a manifesto of an Indian gay activist into dance.

„Why my bedroom habits are your business.“ This manifesto was published in an Indian newspaper in 2000 by Nishit Saran, a gay activist who died in a car accident at the age of 25. In India, sexual intercourse „against the order of nature“ is again penalized after a short more liberal phase between 2009 and 2014. However, in a changing Indian society private bedroom habits are more and more becoming a public matter. The dance performance „Queen size“ choreographed by New Delhi dancer Sandeep Raikhy is an outspoken reference to the change.

Being very straight forward in transforming his message on sexual habits between two men into dance, the setting of the dance performance was chosen with great care.

The venue is a private house in New Delhi which stood empty for several years at Lodhi Road, Jor Bagh 24. Being no gallery, no cultural centre, but a simple private house, it is an excellent choice to keep the discussion on this matter going. Inside the black painted house, emptied of its former inhabitants, the choreographer set up a simple square room. 

Only a bed stands in there, carefully put on center stage by a delicate light dramaturgy. It’s a simple daybed you can find everywhere in India: charpoy, a light bedstead consisting of a web of rope and netting. You can sneak into the room from the outside, since there is no heavy curtains  in front of the windows hiding the view.

The room is barely lit.  The audience is placed on benches leaning on the rooms walls.  Sitting at eye level with the artists, the spectator quickly becomes part of the dramaturgy. There is no escape. This is not going to be private, one immediately becomes aware taking a seat on the benches.

We sit there constantly switching between our role as art audience and voyeurs, fascinated and rejected at the same time by the intimacy of the 45 minutes performance, imitating the encounter and sexual intercourse between two men. There is no foreplay – after a few minutes they are pretending to have sex  on the charpoy in front of us, their explicit gestures not letting space for any doubt.

The almost athletic dance version emphasizes the physical side of the encounter though there is also room for moments of tenderness. Courting and attraction, lust and desire, rejection and violence, domination and abandon: The audience experiences an emotional rollercoaster together with the two male bodies – in the intimacy of an austere bedroom, where the only source of human warmth seems to come from the dimmed orange-yellow light and from a few moments, when hands are searching for each other.

The line is thin between high art and cheap porn. This performance manages to keep the perfect balance, at least for western eyes. The choreographer keeps the audience in a constant state of oscillation. Although the intimacy is shown in the most explicit gestures, there is a seriousness about the danced encounter which makes you immediately part of the ongoing public discussion. It is simply not possible to look away.

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