Performing Arts: Dance
November 21, 2021
Sooraj Subramaniam has had a wide array of homes. He was raised in Malaysia, where he gained a grounding in the Indian classical dance forms of Bharatanatayam and Odissi. He took on Western forms in Australia and London, and is now based in Belgium, but continues to work all over, constantly refining his vocabulary, learning new ones, and collaborating with independent choreographers.

One can imagine how hard a global shut down would be for an artist of such mobility. Oddly, the turn to digital connection allowed Subramaniam to reconnect with an old friend, January Low. They trained together in Malaysia a few years apart, and essentially lost touch when Subramaniam left for Australia. Reconnecting in 2014 led them to consider collaborating, and the pandemic finally made it an, albeit virtual, reality.

Other Places of Being illustrates a holistic process of an artistic friendship. It so happened that both dancers had been studying with Odissi teacher Bijayini Satpathy; their shared training, as well as common performance ethos, could keep their connection vibrant and fresh despite geographic distance and a history of being in and out of touch.

That said, the work does not focus on the dancing per se. Subramaniam and Low were interested in practicing the craft of filmmaking, knowing very well that the nuance of their dance form can only be truly appreciated in person. In this way, moments of dance are not held up as the main events. We instead see fleeting details of the feet, face, and torso, primarily in moments of practice versus performance – perspectives we would not see, either due to sitting too far away in person, or due to the body parts, visible in rehearsal-wear, being covered in costume pieces in performance. In these moments, the soundscore includes both Low and Subramaniam singing the tal, or rhythmic cycle to which their movements correspond, syncing them rhythmically across time zones.

Elsewhere the focus is more domestic. Evenly dispersed throughout is a variety of clips focusing, naturally, on home-life – primarily cooking, relaxing with family, and tending to one’s property. It paints a serene portrait of a time we collectively remember with great trauma. It is similarly paradoxical in documenting the study of an ancient form in a contemporary context. Overall, it calls us to put more time towards study, self-care, and reinforcing relationships in times of prolonged instability.
EYE ON THE ARTS, NY -- Jonathan Matthews-Guzman

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