Sandhya Suresh and Karishma Nair are the powerful duo of dancer/choreographers of In Your Shadow.
It’s a joy to find out Suresh and Karishma are jumping between fences; working as choreographers and performers in the double-bill In Your Shadow. Esplanade presents RAGA a showcase of Indian performing arts. I have seen them perform over the years in wonderful and unforgettable performances such as Pallavi in Time. I feel as though I know them quite a bit, albeit only through dance.
Suresh and Nair have been dancing with Chowk for over three years. It came naturally to them to create a full-length production where they can complement their different movement styles. ‘We had formed a unique synchronicity that we wanted to explore further.’ This synchronicity can also translate as a bond between like-minded artists devoting their time doing what they love the most- dance.
In Your Shadow premiered a little over a year ago in the white house at Emily Hill. An old colonial house with a capacity of fifty audience members per show. An intimate location where one can watch dance up-close. The upcoming performance at Esplanade requires some changes to adapt and develop the work to a new space.
I am no stranger to Suresh. In 2017 while a storm was brewing in the sky we found refuge inside the Chowk studios. There she told me, ‘I am not an actor’. I was positively curious about her determination. Today she strikes gold again.
‘In this day and age, I find myself surrounded by countless powerful women who fight tirelessly to earn a place in our hierarchical society.’
It comes as no surprise that the dancers from Chowk, a female dance company, are shining a light on women. She goes further to explain, ‘Yet, instead, on top of owning their positions, they’re constantly being scrutinised to uphold themselves to the standards of the “feminine code of conduct”.’
It’s with this in mind that Suresh develops ‘Man. Untold’, the first half of this double-bill. It’s a response to the idea that every human being is allowed to live unrestrained. The premise for this piece is both beautiful and sentimental – this powerful artistic partnership is looking to break stereotypes.
Suresh emanates an incredible presence on stage. Often when she is dancing, it becomes impossible to take your eyes away from her, even when she is juxtaposed against a fast rhythmic foot section. Once I spent an entire four minutes studying her neck muscles on stage. She is very comfortable in her own skin, displaying an unusual balance of strength and vulnerability. ‘I have addressed the idea of strength by simply being faceless which represents a genderless body. All human beings regardless of gender have the quality of strength. As for beauty, I’ve used contrasting images that we can all identify as ‘feminine’ based on how society has shaped our mindset in viewing and understanding females’, she confesses.
Nair creates the second half of In Your Shadow. ‘The Last Walk for Water’ explores the heartbreaking closing moments of Letikiros Hailu, a young Ethiopian who spends eight hours a day walking in search of water. My immediate question for Nair is, what is it like to play the consciousness of a 13-year-old Ethiopian girl?
She responds very cordially. ‘The most important thing to me when portraying a character on stage is to connect deeply with their story’. For Nair, it isn’t important whether she is in a ‘similar situation’, she explains, ‘it’s it is about having empathy, connecting as humans and shedding light on a story or issue that resonates with me’. Nair promises to tell this story of confusion and sacrifice as honestly as she can.