Institutions romanticizing dance has been disastrous for the dance ecology: Aseng Borang

by Team ACF
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A dance practitioner, choreographer and performer, Aseng Borang, is seeking to explore various forms of bigotry a body is subjugated to through her latest work, which is still-in-progress. However, she is constantly engaged in the pursuit to investigate how contemporary dance forms are changing. With an academic approach towards choreography (she is pursuing her master’s degree in Performance Practice (Dance) from Ambedkar University), she unleashes a scathing critique on dance institutions that have “romanticized dance”. Aseng was recently awarded the Serendipity Arts Foundation Grant (travel) for performing arts – choreography. Read on to know more…

Excerpts

Your myriad work experiences have given your career trajectory a multidisciplinary dimension, with dance being at the heart of all. Eight years ago when you ventured into this territory, did you know that your chosen field held so many promises?
When I began to venture into this field, I was mostly exploring the realm as a performer. It was only around four-five years ago, that I actually started investigating the field as a choreographer. My first creation or choreography took almost six months of process, which developed as a film and a live performance, and it finally came on stage in the presence of spectators in Contemporary Arts Week 2015. I think as an individual, I was prepared to take on this path whether there were opportunities or not. For a performer, the field definitely provides a huge array of choices. There are many different forms and techniques that you can expose yourself too, and that definitely helps to substantiate your practice as a dance maker or a performer.

What kind of challenges still exist in the ecosystem?
The ecology of contemporary dance in the current scenario in our country is still not fully developed, there has always been irregularity in terms of availability of space and funds. There are definitely some trusts, art organizations and foundations that have looked out for this field but a huge lack of interest is visible in the governmental agencies, which is a little disheartening at times. However, with dance courses (that are not for the traditional forms) sprouting out in universities as diplomas, bachelors and masters, the field of dance, as well as dance research, looks a little brighter.

What kind of explorations are you likely to investigate with the help of this grant? Can you elaborate a bit on your project?
The current work that I am trying to create tries to explore a body that is subjugated to bigotry and investigate how it physically responds and which part of such responses get embodied. Does a body defy and protest? What is a protesting body? What happens in a protesting body? The term “movement”, as Giorgio Agamben puts it ‘how did this term get associated to politics’ as the dynamic forces that changed and shaped societies, politically and culturally. I am trying to see how does this definition effect ‘movement’ in dance? What could it mean? What happens to the ‘culture’ of body behaviour? Who embodies what and why? Does anything exist as it appears to be? Are cultures choreographed to an extent, as ‘movements’ can also occur in them and through them? These are some of my questions that I am trying to ask, the work is going to have two forms of presentation, a choreography as well as a paper. It began as a solo, but now the work will have more bodies. I am still working on it, so nothing is yet concrete.

Beyond conventional choreography and dance techniques, you have made an attempt to get into the aspect of somatic. What I have understood from the term is that you learn to focus on your body language than on mind. Can you elaborate on your techniques and somatic, in particular? And how you engage with them?
First of all, let me clarify, I am not a somatic therapist or a teacher. I have been introduced to the concept of somatic practice and I have used that to enhance my own practice as a performer or a choreographer. It is not about focusing on your body language but just focusing on the body and trying to understanding how to efficiently move your body and thus optimize one’s own practice, how to maintain a safe practice which can provide longevity. It has allowed me to understand the architecture of my body, to observe and evaluate the ability and limits of the body and to be able to feed information to my body which has helped me to enhance my performance and practice.

Your profile on Prakriti Foundation describes your interest as someone who is in pursuit to understand what dance and performance should be in the current times. Can you shine a light on this aspect?
When we say ‘Dance’ or ‘Performance’, what do we actually mean? Do they have singular meanings or multiple? Do we always think of proscenium stages? Most contemporary choreographers are trying to challenge the idea or concept of “performance”. We have choreographers who have brought out their works outside conventional spaces of performances, works that have questioned politics of everyday, works that have no linear narratives etc. and as a dance researcher, such information is exceptionally important to me. When we say contemporary, which means “now and here” and something that is in the present, the field itself is constantly changing because of its very definition, so I am interested in that… what is changing and how it is changing and why is it changing. We have seen certain dance companies and institutions romanticize dance and that has been disastrous for the dance ecology and pedagogy, such institutions and spaces have a very standard form of performance and structure, and that has been accepted as the conventional idea of dance and performance. But how can there be a singular idea about performance or any form of art, does that not sound boring? We always need to destabilize and challenge the conventional norms and structures of every field of study.

How has the Serendipity Arts Foundation Grant contributed to fuelling your artistic ambitions?
I think it is very important to expose oneself to different schools of thoughts, work and experiment with different methodologies, view different kinds of works, be in dialogue with various practitioners, and understand the dance institutions around the world and not just India. My recent trip to Camping Paris 2019 was very informative for me, and this Travel Grant by Serendipity helped me in covering my travel expenses, therefore it was great.

(Serendipity Arts Festival 2019 is in Goa from December 15 to 22, 2019)

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