- The Edict
Bruised knees and Stumbling bodies: Lack of performing spaces in Ashoka
By Siri (UG25)
It’s the Annual Production Fortnight (APF) season and performing arts societies and clubs are busy with practices and rehearsals. But the question of finding a space to practice remains perennial.
For a club like Abhinaya, which has about forty odd members, each participating in a minimum of two dances per semester, these options are often limited. I recall holding early morning practices in the dance studio because it was booked for other dances and activities at all other times. This goes to show the sparsity of conducive performing spaces on campus. Options were always limited: the dance studio, yoga room, CC Studio or the space outside the Black Box Theatre.
The space outside Black Box Theatre is not suitable for practising dance. It does not have a mirror, which is crucial to observe yourself and choreographing formations. The flooring is very smooth and is not gripped to support pirouettes and chakkars (spins). Many dancers have injured themselves while trying to dance on such flooring. These injuries, if not treated properly, have the potential to seriously harm dance careers in the long run.
The Yoga room too is often occupied by students who practice yoga. The Table Tennis tables are right outside this room. Dance practices usually require us to play loud music, jump and move around a lot. Such intense movement tends to disturb people practising Yoga and playing Table Tennis. The flooring in the Yoga Room lacks grip, leading to injuries in the ankle and knees.
Further, Reddy’s auditorium is not equipped to handle performances. The stage is very small and cannot fit more than ten dancers at a time. The lighting options are extremely limited. Spotlights were not available last semester when the very theme for the Jashn-e-Jazbaa showcase was colour. This affected the extent to which we could experiment with the theme and be creative with our choreographies. There are limited greenrooms and changing facilities, which are required for dancers to change costumes and jewellery quickly for back-to-back performances.
This semester, in a meeting with the heads of clubs, the Student Life Office (SLO) announced that Reddy’s Auditorium would be unavailable for club showcases to cut down on power consumption. This includes Abhinaya’s APF showcase. An alternative that was considered in our Abhinaya team meeting was the Black Box Theatre. However, it is too small and cannot fit the dancers and the audience.
The Black Box Theatre was initially conceived to be a theatre space, where students can enact and practice drama, not dance. While both are performing arts, dance performance spaces require certain unique features.
Complex choreographies that have unique formations and experiment with light and shadow need an elevated stage. Intricate elements like pyramid formation or sudden colour change denote an implicit emotion and are only fully observable on an elevated stage. Most often at Black Box, the performers and audience are on the same plane, and subtle movements are missed.
Additionally, the audience surrounds the performers in Black Box which means that there is no distance between the dancers and the audience. While such a spatial arrangement is suitable for an intimate performance, a showcase demands a more formal ordering. In an auditorium, there is a linear spatial relationship between the performers and the audience which facilitates the performers to make eye contact with the audience and develop a relationship with them.
Now, as dancers, not only do we lack suitable practice spaces but also performing auditoriums. As a solution, I think there must be some redistribution of funds where conducive spaces for all performing arts: dance, music and theatre are built. While we do have spaces like the Open Amphitheatre where Abhinaya routinely conducts Open Dance Floors for the entire Ashokan student body, it is not ideal for serious practice or even showcases that are usually a culmination of months of ideation and rigorous training.
The performing arts clubs and societies deserve better practice spaces that do not carry the risk of injuries and are equipped for a creative and fulfilling performing experience. If Ashoka University is serious about nurturing a healthy performance culture, we need to invest in performing spaces.