[h]Interland, is described as a ‘site-specific, installation dance performance’. Even though those trendy idioms conjure up an idea of a postmodern, novel, provocative boundary-crossing, sideways look at the ‘normal’, disciplined structures we have come to accept and expect, somehow it doesn’t quite get to the crux of what is going on in Jeyasingh’s new work, a commission as part of Dance Umbrella 2002. For a start, when you’re watching a site-specific piece of dance, you rather expect to be huddled in one corner of St Pancras station peering up a column to see somebody suspended on an elastic tangoing with a pigeon. You don’t expect to be sitting comfortably in a theatre auditorium. Flippancies aside, the point is that [h]Interland asks big questions about the possibilities of presenting dance, but has confidence in the profound and enduring effect of subtlety on an audience and on a dance form.
[h]Interland involves three live dancers, two live vocalists, a live webcast from a hotel rooftop in Bangalore, a newly commissioned sound score, two screens with a projected film sequence and a complex lighting pattern. The stage, visually, aurally and cerebrally, is full and ‘a-live’. Relationships exist, develop and change between all these elements in each moment, as they share each others’ space and each others’ time. What makes the relationships so intriguing is that each has a distinctive mood, boundary and level of ability to respond spontaneously – inevitably there is a question of control and power at play here.
This is perhaps most explicit in the relationship of the three dancers, two of whom dance in the auditorium and the third of whom dances simultaneously in Bangalore and is projected into the auditorium via a weblink. At times, the figures dance in tandem and offer different perspectives; at times they individually monopolise space and time; at times they share and pass focus like a relay race. At one point, Mavin Khoo and Sowmya Gopolan traverse the balcony, a thin path from left to right directly opposite the tiers of audience seating, higher than most of us. There is no possibility of significant movement forward and back, without falling from the platform. Behind them, Chitra Srishailan moves on a similarly defined pathway from back to front along a level blue strip of rooftop- moving left or right would mean a shift of level. As she moves closer to the camera, of course, her body appears increasingly large. The pathways neatly echo one another, but we are finally confronted with the dwarfed figures of the ‘real’ dancers, moving in front of the giant head of the ‘virtual’ dancer. It is an exciting and provocative moment.
Dancing in front of a stationary web-camera gives the possibility of completely dominating a visual frame and of forcing reconsideration of a space that we automatically and on first glance defined in a particular way. Although they are the same size, sometimes the dancers are made to ‘look big’, sometimes they are made to ‘look small’. Those moments when the ‘real’ dancer leaves the stage space, and the filmed dancer appears in her stage space, the question is raised about the freedom of moving in a box like space. If it doesn’t happen in the defined space, there is the argument that it doesn’t happen at all – but then of course, we are actually the ones trapped within this space, sitting still with our given parametres.
These problems are testament to an enthralling and novel piece of dance performance. Technologically, the effort and success of the piece was astonishing. The ‘site-specific’ ness of this piece is much more interesting than a question of how a certain space might affect movement. It is the enduring and fluid question of how ways of presenting movement might affect our perception of space.