Preethi Athreya is a contemporary dancer and choreographer from India. Established in Chennai, she studied Bharatanatyam under the Dhananjayans and finished a postgraduate degree in Dance Studies at Laban, in London. One of the most fascinating aspects of my job as an arts writer is obviously to meet people. Particularly, people working in the dance world and to realize how dance is evolving and growing across countries. ‘Contemporary dance is still a kind of underground movement in India. It’s not really either supported by the state or the public for commercial activities’. Preethi Athreya tells me with utter conviction.
There is a sense of freedom, even carte blanche to create choreography in this context. I am afraid we might have lost a little bit of this liberty. Especially, when art-making can be so institutionalised and driven by venues commissioning works to serve specific programmes. Alas, Preethi Athreya doesn’t seem to suffer from this syndrome. It’s a double-edged sword. On one hand, she has the freedom to investigate her practice free of constraints; deadlines and KPIs. But, on the other, she has fewer resources to share her practice and performances. International invitations to perform her choreography have become vital to Athreya to find a balance between research, creation, and presentation.
The excitement on the other side of the phone is loud and the enthusiasm is clear. Preethi is a pioneer and an independent artist like most contemporary choreographers in India. She started dancing primarily as a soloist, ‘for the longest time’ she confesses. ‘The need to do solo work was greater at the time. But over the years I became more interested in working with a larger group of bodies that don’t come from the same background.’ It’s obvious from our conversation that Preethi is still very much in love with the performative body. She mentions this a dozen times on our discussion. She is proposing another image of India and the Indian body through her work. An unapologetic but quietly affirming body, which we will be able to see in Singapore with the premiere of The Lost Wax Project – 15 and16 of November.
Underscoring The Lost Wax Project is a vivid inquiry looking for a fresh and critical point of view on the body. What could be the point of intrigue be for people who are trained differently? The latter cemented the seeds for a piece four months in the making. During this process, the research led Pretti to question, ‘Are we meant to watch the bodies? Or are we meant to watch the space that is being affected by the bodies that are moving?’ She became very interested in the negative space between bodies as a result. She adds, ‘It was somehow clear to me that it was the female body that was sort of occupying my mind in terms of a presence’.
The Lost Wax Project is performed on a circular stage, a fixed and cyclical never-ending performance area. Preethi uses it to ‘break a certain linearity in the movement’ she explains. The performers walk and step over rice powder creating ritualistic drawings. The sensation of the fine powder against the skin brings out a softness in the movement and in-depth attention to detail that unifies the cast in a state of awareness. Even a developed ‘sixth sense’ Preethy admits. The Lost Wax Project ‘turned out as expected’. This might be the first time I hear an artist confessing these words so proudly. However, Preethi adds, ‘it was a struggle to get there.’
The Lost Wax Project by Preethi Athreya at Esplanade – Theatres on the Bay 15-16 November.
This post is sponsored by Esplanade – Theatres on the Bay.