We speak to the choreographer and the performers about the conceptualisation and challenges involved in showcasing a perspective that’s not provocative, but at the same time hits the nail on the head. Played out on a charpoy, Queen-Size examines the nuts and bolts — carnal, mechanical and emotional — of a close encounter between two male bodies. The charpoy also holds significance. It’s rustic, it’s transparent. You can see above it, under it and through it; there’s no place for hiding, and there’s no need for hiding. In deliberately making this encounter visible, Queen-Size poses questions around spectatorship, privacy and dissent. “The idea was triggered by Nishit Saran’s article Why My Bedroom Habits are your Business , first published in a national daily in 2000. I revisited the article in 2015. At a time of cultural censorship, intolerance, award wapsi and raging debates on nationalism in many key universities across the country, Nishit’s article seemed like a compelling starting point for a work that would bring private matters out into the public realm and allow me as an individual to assert my identity as a queer artist,” explains its choreographer Mandeep Raikhy, who has also created full-length works — Inhabited Geometry (2010) and A Male Ant has Straight Antennae (2013) — and divides his time between creating and touring his artistic work and being a dance administrator.
The performance that is being hosted by Anita Ratnam’s Arangham Trust, in the city, on February 16 at Spaces, and executive produced by Sandbox Collective, has earlier travelled to Delhi, Chandigarh, Kolkata, Mumbai, Guwahati, Imphal, Aizwal, Shillong, Pune, Bangalore and Hyderabad. Speaking about the response the show has received, Mandeep says, “The feedback has been wonderfully complex. Some have loved it to the point of tears. Some have stayed and helped us dismantle the set and pack it. A few have left mid-way, while the others have gushed and written about it. While some entered the room warily and left looking transformed, others left with confusing questions. Some have even come out of the closet in a conversation after the show. The audience’s gaze is also part of the work. One can look at others watch the work. One can look at others looking at us while we watch the work. It’s in the looking that questions around morality, privacy, dissent and viewership get asked.”
Queen-Size has been a particularly challenging project for Mandeep. “The biggest challenge was for me to look beyond provocation and protest and tune into what the craft available to me, choreography, had to offer. How does the body in performance protest differently than say a protest march or a newspaper article? What can dance become the language of resistance? How does art transcend the literal and make a familiar image unfamiliar again? What is the relationship between the political and the aesthetic? These were some of the questions I dealt with whilst constructing the work over a period of four months,” recalls Mandeep.
Queen-Size runs in a loop played continuously over two and a half hours. The audience can enter the performance space at specific intervals through this period, and stay for as long as they like. And this can be a huge challenge for performers. Lalit Khatana and Parinay Mehra, the performers, say in unison, “The audience is so close that they can almost feel our breath. At the same time, you also get to understand the vibe with every action and reaction.” Lalit adds, “Initially, as a straight boy, I couldn’t really connect to it emotionally. Later, I started investigating and understanding the idea, and eventually realised how important it was to do what we were doing. I now realise how it’s no one’s business to enter someone’s personal space.”
Mandeep says he is not trying to force anything on anyone, but rather posing questions. “The biggest question is whether the performed intimacy by the two bodies, along with their sweat, tiredness, breath and effort, makes a compelling argument against the archaic law that controls private and consensual desire?” finishes Mandeep.
Delhi-based artist Mandeep Raikhy