Manipuri dancer explores human cost of war
New Delhi, March 20 (IANS): The plight of refugees and their constant state of movement and instability became the central theme of “1 Sq Ft”, a contemporary dance act by Manipuri choreographer Surjit Nongmeikapam, who was first inspired by the horrors of the World World II wreckage in Manipur.
The 30-minute act enunciated the human cost of war and the displacement it caused worldwide. Using the metaphor of his props — bamboo for boundaries, oars for crossing water bodies and chairs for comfort and seats of power — his act builds a powerful case for the reality of war and violence.
For a young Nongmeikapam, who now often sees refugees in Europe, the story started with his grandmother’s painful narration of the Battle of Imphal in 1944, when Japanese troops caused much destruction in the region.
“When I was little, my grandmother used to narrate the Japan attack and how they ran for survival. She told me there wasn’t enough food to survive yet they shared it with the soldiers. They even ate rotten food. Because of the war, she couldn’t study further and regretted it lifelong,” Nongmeikapam, who is trained in Kathak, Kalaripayattu, Manipuri dance, contemporary dance and Manipuri martial art Thang-Ta, told IANS.
The act’s title “1 Sq Ft” is a sharp elocution of how even a square foot, the space needed to stand, is not available for the refugees in a foreign land.
The choreographer, who equates war with “not just fighting, but also running for survival and a better life”, has used constant motion to signify the unstable lives of the refugees on the move.
“My idea was to explore people travelling from place to place to find ways to survive,” the young performer said.
Beginning with three dancers shifting seats, the brief act graduates to one of them succumbing to circumstances on the floor. Chairs, symbolising power, are slowly weighed down on him, and soon he is unable to stand.
“Whatever is happening right now is dictated by power, whether it’s war or development. They can control the system. Even if one doesn’t want to fight, he is commanded by the powerful to do it,” he explained.
The act then shows two dancers — Waikhom Biken and Senjam Hemjit — moving with a long bamboo pole, not letting it fall.
“Bamboo is very Asian. It is used for rowing water, and many refugees cross oceans and rivers for days and days — hoping for a better life. I also think that bamboo is a boundary that is easily visible. It also makes the pole for flags, which again refers to boundaries of different countries,” Nongmeikapam said.
The poignant dance act ends with Nongmeikapam giving in to the power of the bamboo pole, his body falling on it and getting transported across the stage. The bamboo does not touch the ground, the human body does.
“Not just human beings, but animals and birds migrate too, often because of ecological disasters. It’s not just war that kills us, the changing ecology kills us too,” Nongmeikapam said, adding that we must answer humanity’s call.
“1 Sq Ft” premiered at the ArtEast Festival that concluded at the India International Centre (IIC) here last week. It will feature in several upcoming cultural events.