Vikram Dances The Music of the Deaf
"When you heard the robin sing the other day, what I felt was not just humiliation, it was a sense of bitter injustice and deprivation and grief and loss and self-pity all mixed up in a frightful lump. And then you went on to talk of blackbirds and nightingales. Really, Michael, now that you know I’m deaf you had better amend your remarks so that you don’t pierce me so neatly to the heart."
This is the pianist Julia in a letter to her fellow musician and lover Michael, in Vikram Seth's An Equal Music. The lines form part of the text that Vikram Iyengar uses in Ranan's new dance-theatre production, Those Who Could Not Hear The Music, conceived and directed by him and performed at the NCPA last Wednesday.
Text has also been borrowed from Beethoven's letter to his brothers Carl and Johann, in which he confesses to the painful secret that lies at the root of his generally perceived misanthropy. He has gone deaf. "What a humiliation when one stood beside me and heard a flute in the distance and I heard nothing, or someone heard the shepherd singing and again I heard nothing."
What could this deafening silence be like we ask ourselves. And soon we know, when the music stops abruptly and the dancers continue to move in the ensuing soundlessness to some inner music.
The narrative structure for the partly free-flowing, partly kathak-based choreography of the performance piece is provided by the fluctuating emotions of the musicians as they realise that they have lost their hearing forever. The dancers' movements alternate between the agonised and the lyrical. In one sequence the hands move jerkily, expressing the constant struggle of the deaf against their deprivation; in another, they become tendril-soft as they reach out tentatively towards hope. In one sequence bodies rush around agitatedly, do rapid chakkars, tear and claw at one another. In another, they sink to the floor exhausted, momentarily giving up the fight. In this richly varied choreography, where the group alternately disperses and coheres, our deepest satsifaction comes when words, mood, music and movement meld fluidly to evoke sensed but not fully understood meanings. That's the beauty of abstraction versus illustration.
Iyengar uses minimal props, both for their symbolic value and as aids to action. The gramophone with its exaggerately large brass horn is where Julia bends her ear in a futile attempt to hear; but the record on the turntable remains dumb to her ears. Beethoven flings his music sheets in the air in rage and frustration. A slatted stool turns into a crosslike contraption into which the musician's arms are inextricably threaded. And while the musicians grieve, hope, struggle and despair, we who can hear, are treated to Beethoven's magnificent music which forms the enviable score for the performance. Finally, the triumphant da-da-da-dum of Beethoven's fifth symphony, heralds acceptance and readiness to face the challenge. Beethoven has rejected suicide. "It seemed impossible to leave the world until I had produced all that I felt called upon to produce." Julia has started lessons in lip-reading, which she tells herself is just another language, like music, to be acquired through hard work and practice.
It is not easy for choreography to rise to such a score, and certainly there are sequences in this piece, particularly where acrobatic movements are involved, when compositions turn raw at the edges. There is also a suspicion that the overall effectiveness of the piece might be enhanced if the sequences illustrating deafness are tightened. The speech in the case of some performers is flawed and a couple of voices are weak. But these flaws are compensated for by the elegance, energy and emotional involvement of the dancers, the beauty of the black, white and crimson costumes, and the softly shifting lighting. And of course, by the music, which one wishes wouldn't end.
As the performance draws to a close, we are like Michael who says after hearing Julia play Bach's The Art of Fugue, "Music, such music, is a sufficient gift. Why ask for happiness; why hope not to grieve? It is enough, it is to be blessed enough, to live from day to day and to hear such music – not too much, or the soul could not sustain it – from time to time." These are the culminating words also of Those Who Could Not Hear The Music. And we don't want to move from our seats till the last notes of the music have faded away.
Published On : 05-02-2014