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Lamentations. A Gestural Theatre in a Realm of Shadows – Sandeep Baghwati

20. September 2013 Posted by:

Racines Ephémères – Lamentations
Racines Ephémères – Lamentations | Picture by http://matralab.hexagram.ca

Excerpt from an academic article in „Remembering Mass Violence: Oral History, New Media and Performance“:

„We cannot keep our hands, eyes, shoulders, neck still when we tell the story of our life. We move them to underline statements, to visualize spaces and movements, to delineate people and actions – and, in comforting ourselves, to assure ourselves of our own reality.

Many of these movements are specific to our social environment and our level of understanding the gestures of people around us will often determine whether we feel at home or at sea in any specific social situation.

In many non-Western performing arts (such as Bharata Natyam, Kuttiyattam, No or the different types of Chinese opera) codified gestures are central to the expressivity and the semantics of a performance. Western theatre has largely turned away from intense use of gestural material sui generis, privileging spoken word, whole-body physicality, set design, music and other theatrical parameters. Gestures are used mostly to underline these other parameters, not to establish their own layer of meaning.

In attempting to understand displacement, however, gestures are of overwhelming importance. Displaced persons are often slow to adapt to new languages and customs, but gestures, the most immediate expression of belonging and distance in any social situation, are more easily adopted. North American societies, via the model of Hollywood movies, have developed a very restrained set of largely unified and codified everyday gestures – displaced persons must adapt this very quickly or be socially isolated. This means they soon learn a new set of context-dependent gestural material, in the process amalgamating the gestures from their own culture with the codified North American gestural repertoire.

In the research leading up to the performance of LAMENTATIONS, we analyzed dozens of life story interviews from a major oral history project at Concordia University called „Life Stories of Montrealers displaced by War, Genocide and other Human Rights Abuses“, analysing the multiple ways in which  different socially and culturally determined gestures overlap.

Hundreds of such gestures were de-contextualized and studied as abstract movements (without sound) by a team of actors and dancers who individually and in small ensembles aimed to first emulate the gestures faithfully, then re-construct them into new gestures and re-invest these gestures with meaning.

This has generated an inter-cultural and hybrid repertoire of hand, eye and shoulder movements which then was used to create an evocative stage performance, re-contextualizing this gestural material together with text fragments.

Thus the stage becomes a realm of shadow gestures, where aspects of displaced life stories are embedded into a fabric of expressions that seemingly are common to us all – where the very alienness and incongruousness of these gestures will create disturbances, displacements and drama.“

From: „Lamentations. A Gestural Theatre in a Realm of Shadows“ in: „Remembering Mass Violence: Oral History, New Media and Performance“ ed. by Steven High, Edward Little and Thi Ry Duong, pp. 94-110, University of Toronto Press 2013


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