In Your Shadow reveals two tall women taking the stage, each alone, then together. Carried along by Bani Haykal’s serenely evocative music, each scene repeats various motifs, and each shift marked by a different sonic layer.
In the first portion of the work “Man. Untold” by Sandhya Suresh, we see a woman, prone, her hips splayed and knees bent like a frog. Slowly contorting in frog-like and creaturely shapes, staying close to the ground, the images repeat, building into a woman standing. In this section, the dancer’s strength and control are foregrounded, the ground and her bared back artfully covered in earth. Woman as a metaphor for fertile land. We see no face for a very long time; the focus is on her hips, her back. A subtle suggestion of women’s hidden individuality, smeared instead by sweeping generalities, perhaps. A mirror is revealed at the back. At some point, the dark stage is brightened, showing a few panels dividing the space. Each change is given its time, including the changes created by the dancer’s movement. When suddenly the stage lights blink, and a dress descends from the ceiling, the aura of mystery feels slightly broken. Suresh stands, she stretches the dress over her body, she snakes her body sensually and uses her gaze flirtatiously — stereotypically feminine, woman-as-temptress. Her hair, her expressions, and articulate hands become an essential part of the dance. When she ends, balancing on one leg and tugging at her dress, it seems that the woman has hidden herself again. The question remains, how is a woman allowed to exist and present herself? How does she show herself, fully?
In “The Last Walk for Water” by Karishma Nair, the life experience of Letikiros Hailu inform the choreography. Nair has entered into a heavy psychological state, a dancer stretching her empathy for a life very different from her own. Letikiros Hailu was a young Ethiopian girl who lost a day’s water and chose death instead of facing her family. Many women and girls like her spend 8 hours a day walking and waiting for water. In this poeticised telling of the story, the dancer is seen crouched, rocking back and forth, tentatively taking steps. The rhythmic repetitions suggest self-soothing, fear, indecision, her movement soft. When milk and red particles (angsana seeds perhaps) spill from the ceiling, the noise they make provoke a kind of indignation in me; perhaps similar to what one might feel when faced with injustice. When Nair spins quickly, her arms and finger tense with quiet protest, the distance between Ethiopia and Singapore, a girl who walks for water and a woman who dances, matters little. It feels like a painful, repetitive, cycle of inequity.
To end the somber evening, Suresh and Nair dance together. Sometimes mirroring, sometimes playfully bouncing off each other, they giggle gently at one point, look at each other with the quiet weight of weary women. Their vulnerability on stage seems to coalesce when their bodies briefly touch, soften — sharing the other’s burden. Friendship and solidarity, coming out of the shadows of patriarchal history?
The evening has been full of gravitas. Perhaps a reminder of the progress that has been made for women in the 21st Century, and the long road still ahead.