Curator’s Note

Nirmala Seshadri

Photo by Charmaine Poh

Welcome to our Dance Affectionate site!

Truly moved by the thoughtful and thought-provoking contributions by the carefully selected artist contributors, I just HAD to step back for a moment to trace back to where and why we embarked on this project in the first place.

It was just after the circuit breaker, that I invited to my home a small group of artist friends, including Mervin Wong and Jereh Leung. Amongst other things, we talked about my recent production The Problematic Danseuse and the need to start thinking of archiving my work at least of the last 2 decades. During the course of the conversation, the idea of a virtual living archive unfolded. Along with this emerged the possibility of inviting a group of artists to respond to my work that has over the years questioned normative patriarchal structures and sought to create alternative narratives and representations for the female performance body.

Additionally, my own experience of working with a feminist approach as well as my observations and understanding of the experiences of other such artists in the field, had led me to believe firmly in the importance of building friendship and solidarity as we create against the grain. The pandemic had stepped in to accentuate the sense of isolation and need for care. Hence the title Dance Affectionate.

I decided I would extend invitations to 5 artists who I felt would find resonance either by way of their interest and familiarity with my work and/or an alignment with their respective artistic practices. 

In The Problematic Danseuse, I introduced the concept of a wooden box from which my past was pulled into the present - costumes, ornaments and accessories, written text, performance dialogues, music, movement, expression as well as documentation by way of videos and stills. In Dance Affectionate, I re-opened the box (both literally and metaphorically), reflecting on additional content and providing cues over a span of about 6 weeks, to the invited artists - via Zoom and other online channels.

The three dance and movement artists - namely Nrithya Pillai, Hasyimah Harith and Jereh Leung have responded to my ‘box’ in interesting and diverse ways. Nrithya’s response titled Fighting to be heard: Resurrecting the Aesthetics of an Appropriated Art brings to centre stage the historically silenced female voice of the marginalised courtesan community. Through the lens of caste, Nrithya complicates the notions of feminist resistance and sexual agency. In Interpreting Modern Expressions as Abhinaya Jereh views the abhinaya (dramatic aspect) of Bharatanatyam as a performance of gender that perpetuates the patriarchal gaze. He draws a parallel to the modern-day expressions of television and screen actresses, which he embodies and investigates from his personal location as a contemporary dancer who is cis male as well as queer. Hasyimah Harith in Death of a Malay-Muslim Female Dancer, responds through her personal experience of body policing and current reality of pregnancy. Through a series of interviews that she conducts with older female Malay dancers, she  examines the concept of invisibility and the ageing female Malay dancer.

In Young Body, photographer and filmmaker Charmaine Poh investigates the online patriarchal gaze and its adverse impact on the pre-teen female body. In her response, Charmaine explores the possibility of freedom from trauma, through internet avatar creation. Additionally for this project, Charmaine has interviewed the artists of Dance Affectionate, capturing their distinct processes in the form of short videos.

I have been in artistic collaboration with multimedia artist Mervin Wong for close to 4 years now; he holds the key to most of my archival material. Mervin's  response is a series of audiovisual portraits - What Lies Beyond, Body I,  Radha, Now, Memory of Ashtapadi and Recomposition - Crossroads. Mervin engages with my work through his unique methods of observation, layering and construction to lend new texture and meaning.

It has been such a pleasure interacting  with the wonderfully talented artists. I thank the National Arts Council (Singapore) for its support in making this project a reality.

As a living archive that is constantly evolving, I invite you to access and engage with the material on this site, in your own time. Through this project, I hope to generate a free space for anyone to come to their own understandings of the body - in relation to self, society and the pandemic.

Nirmala Seshadri is a dance artist and researcher who seeks to recontextualise her classical dance form, Bharatanatyam. Her social justice perspective leads her to use the body and performance space to interrogate existing inequalities, problematizing boundaries of time, place, gender, and caste, among other social constructs. Her quest for autonomy and sensorial perception led her to Butoh.

Bridging dance practice with theory, her research interests include kinesthesia and corporeality, gender, tradition and transition, site specificity, cultural hybridisation and the politics of identity. A recipient of the Young Artist Award from the National Arts Council (Singapore), she graduated with an MA in Dance Anthropology (distinction) from the University of Roehampton, London.

Photo by Mervin Wong
© 2021 Nirmala Seshadri All Rights Reserved