Making you think through dance

Aparnaa Nagesh

Aparnaa Nagesh is a versatile dance professional with over 18 years of training, teaching and performance experience. She has trained extensively in various dance styles such as Jazz, Ballet, Contemporary, Latin and Street and now creates contemporary dance theatre work under her own unique movement vocabulary titled “Global Dance Fusion”. Currently she runs her own all girl dance ensemble, High Kicks, and addresses several social issues through her art form. Here is her story.

I was a typical child of the 80s and 90s: the generation that got to play on the streets, but also saw the transition into the internet era. From dialup to broadband, Doordarshan to cable to Netflix, floppy discs to Pen drives, I believe that being on the cusp of change, made me always be excited for change, yet be grounded and rooted enough to not flounder too much.

I started dancing professionally at age 15, the year I started learning the art form. My background was in music, dramatics and sports, but dance filled a massive void and shaped me into the person I am today. Dancing professionally helped me bring myself out of a very dark period in my turbulent teenage years, after being the subject of severe emotional bullying in school. I have always known that I was different but, it was hard to express that difference or even own it until I started dancing. I danced professionally with a commercial dance company for 12 years, from the age of 15 to 27. Through my high school years and a Visual Communication Degree at MOP Vaishnav College. My college years were a blur with shows, cultural events, dramatics, writing and a ton of assignments. I did follow my dream of studying dance in New York and completed a Certificate of Excellence in Broadway Dance Center, New York at the age of 27.

I think I have always liked the idea of letting my body respond to music, and I spent 3 years dancing in the dark literally before I signed up for classes/training. I used to turn on the radio or play my favourite cassettes, lock the bedroom door, clear a little space in front of the bed and just lose myself in dancing for at least 3 hours every eve. I consider this my first practice. I was always keen to see this movement take form and shape, and used to experiment on the other kids in the apartment block where I lived. To be fair, they were good sports and were always game to learn the stuff I came up with.

The foray into Artivism
As I reached the end of my commercial performance graph - around the age of 27, there was a deep sense of dissatisfaction about how I was using my art/skill. I wanted to make a difference, effect change but wasnt sure how. It has been a learning curve towards the path of artivism and I am still learning and growing as I continue on this path.

Stories have fascinated me and books are my life and soul. I always feel like Choreography is like  taking  these words out of the book and transporting people to that same imaginative space, the one where you visualise the writer's words, the one where the book's universe comes alive.

So if you can recreate that feeling, thought, emotion and visual imagery then it is important to do that with both the good and the bad. It is important to make people actually feel the things that we are trying to effect change for, rather than just talk about it. It cause a very real shift in thinking and perspective and I have personally seen that happen.

One of the pieces I did in furtherance of my artivist goals was Depaysement, which was a long hard look at my own privilege and entitlement. Depaysement is a part of a three-part show, called Duende, which is a Spanish word that translates to mean, “the mysterious power of art to deeply move a person.” Duende is a contemporary dance theatre performance comprising three acts. Depaysement, which translates to mean displacement, depicts the journey of a normal lay person, displaced from their homeland due to war. White Noise, which examines the stark reality of mental illness caused by the excessive amount of digital noise we are subject to in recent times. Her Story, which brings to the limelight, stories of women whose contributions to history have been relegated to small paragraphs, or altogether dismissed and questions how history has been written by patriarchal norms. 

The taking for granted of everyday comfort and the feeling of home. People always say Home is where the heart is. And yes, that's true if your heart is ready and prepared to travel, put yourself in difficult situations, but what happens when displacement as a result of conflict takes place. That then is not a choice, its not about taking your heart with you, it's about making the best of what is available, being shooed away from people's doorsteps, having no identity. I felt like if that feeling could be communicated in real time to people, then more people would question and stand up against meaningless conflict and war. It may sound idealistic, but I needed a place to put my emotions and depaysement was it. Creative artistes have a very huge superpower. The power to force people to acknowledge their innermost feelings. It just needs to be accepted and utilised by more artistes.

Another piece I created is SKIN, an experimental dance theatre work that explores the intersectionality of race, religion(caste included), gender and sexuality and the differences that supposedly separate us. The colour of our skin, the texture, and how we wear it – pierced , covered, exposed, anointed with colour. What does “comfortable in your skin” really mean? Black, brown, white, yellow, red.  The premise of the show is a playground with a group of children transitioning from ages 4 - 16/17. The dancers of the High Kicks Ensemble had to tap into their inner child and childhood memories to be able to build their characters and it is currently a work in progress with some modifications for its second staging in February.

Dance is a non-violent form of addressing several issues - violence included. I also feel like the violence of an issue or topic can be communicated clearly without having to resort to actual violence. The abstraction of movement and freedom of choreography in contemporary and modern dance are brilliant tools in re-creating the intent, feeling and emotion of any issue/situation or story.

Nuggets from the journey so far

The first time I noticed that my work had an impact was with my first production, called Leap into Life. We had a couple of parents who connected with the theme of the production. They had to conform to societal standards and couldn’t pursue their passions - which was what the show was about, that is, breaking the mould and following your heart. They came up to me and say that they were not going to prevent their daughters from pursuing their dreams. That shift in their mindsets was tremendously moving.

When I did Depaysement, a Kashmiri Pandit refugee in the audience said that she felt she was living her experience again, and felt immensely grateful that people were talking about the refugee experience, and that people were checking their privilege enough to use their spaces to talk about these issues. 

In another showing of Duende (which comprises Depaysement), a visually impaired person with 5% visibility attended the show. He told us that he could only see blurred shapes on stage, but he said that that itself had left a tremendous impact on him. That was incredibly moving for me - because it made me realize that I should also work towards developing work that could be accessible to a range of people.

In the days to come
High Kicks is set to travel to Australia to participate and perform in the Australia Youth Dance Festival and we are currently prepping for that, with fundraising and rehearsals. We will be performing Depaysement as part of the International Showcase evening at the famed Melbourne Meat Market Venue and also doing an artistic residency with the aboriginal dance company, and Wagana, before the festival.
To support High Kicks on their way to the Australia Youth Dance Festival, head here.