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Shake it up with Compagnie 7273

Jennifer Kishan | Updated on December 13, 2019 Published on December 12, 2019

Storyboard: Nicholas Cantillon (centre), co-founder of dance group Compagnie 7273, performing in Kolkata   -  JENNIFER KISHAN

Laurence Yadi and Nicholas Cantillon’s recent Kolkata show celebrated their multi-style dance movement FuittFuitt, based on Egyptian maqam music

A steady drumbeat marks the start of the show. Laurence Yadi enters the burnt-down ruins of Kolkata’s Gem Cinema, now repurposed as an art space. Two large speakers outline her stage. With her feet planted firmly on the ground, she starts to slowly move her body into a shudder. In what seems to be a ritualistic dance, her muscles ripple and move to the accompanying beat. The music floods through the sparse interiors — a rousing rhythm of a gamut of percussions, cymbals and bells.

The audience sits transfixed by Yadi’s fluid movements. Her face unravels a tide of emotions. In this charged atmosphere her energy is empowering, emotive and universal. A full 33 minutes later, the music collapses into the tempered beat of a single drum and fades out. Like a shaman in a trance, Yadi continues to shake. But her rooted form has not moved an inch from where she stands.

The performance was a part of the Pickle Factory Dance Foundation’s annual performance festival. The foundation is a platform for the practice and presentation of dance and movement work in spaces that are repurposed for the arts. Widening Circles Pickle Factory Season 2, a month-long fest held in Kolkata in November, saw participation from India, Australia, Switzerland, Germany, Scotland and Canada.

Yadi’s dance — called Today — was presented by the Geneva-based Compagnie 7273. A simple yet highly evocative piece, it was a call to the audience, and the performer, to distance themselves from the body and observe what it had to say. “It explores two dimensions interlocked within one another: The body-object and the body-subject,” says 47-year-old Nicolas Cantillon, who co-choreographed the piece with Yadi two years ago. “The piece is open to interpretation, just like all other art is. But it is very personal as well. It’s like watching the art of creation — that’s what makes it both intimate and universal at the same time.”

Dancers and choreographers Yadi and Cantillon started their dance company Compagnie 7273 in 2003 and have created over 20 productions — solos and group pieces — which have been performed in Asia, Africa, Europe and North America. The duo is mainly known for its distinctive multi-style dance movementFuittFuitt, which is based on the Egyptian maqam tones — melodic patterns used in traditional Arabic music. They have received several awards for this, including the Swiss Prize for Dance and Choreography and the Fondation Liechti for the Arts.

FuittFuitt is a technique which we developed based on maqam, an Egyptian musical form, where between each musical note there is space to improvise and show the personality of the musician. It is very similar to the playing of a raga. There are several ways to arrive from one note to the next,” Cantillon tells BLink at a dance workshop in Kolkata. Supported by the Pro Helvetia, the Swiss Arts Council, the duo are on tour in India and Nepal, performing and conducting workshops primarily on body movements.

Yadi, 46, met Cantillon when they were teenagers in Paris and later moved with him to Geneva for work, and then set up the dance company. The two have been performing the FuittFuitt style for over 10 years now and wrote a book on it in 2014. Interestingly, the style was inspired by dancer-choreographer Uday Shankar, whose dance fused movements from the East and West.

Cantillon explains that the space between two dance movements — where all the improvisations happen — is the essence of FuittFuitt. “This is where the musician can express himself creatively. In a way, we play maqam with our bodies,” he says.

He points out that in Today — Yadi’s first solo performance — there is immense scope for a performer’s creativity. “There is no count or set of movements but there are certain cues in the music which Yadi needs to track and meet. These are pre-decided because, as the piece progresses, her energy truly builds into a trance and, without these cues, she will be completely lost. But between these cues she is free to explore,” Cantillon explains.

Compagnie 7273’s dance practice has been nourished by several other world cultures as well. The choreographers have travelled across West Asia and other parts of the continent, Africa, Mexico and Canada in search of essential movements and soundscapes. For Today, the choreographers spent time in Chad and Iran. The background score, created by Maurice Louca, has influences from the Zar possession-ritual dance of Cairo. The dance, believed to have originated in sub-Saharan Africa, is performed by women to exorcise an evil spirit.

According to Cantillon, the challenge with performing Today lies in working the energy in the room by simply using slow movements of the body. Today is a tough piece — if the audience and the dancer are not consumed by the performance, it fails. “An audience usually looks for a deeper meaning and a storyline. We try to keep the piece very abstract from the beginning, so that the body remains the only focus. Even with the music it is the body that should keep the focus.”

Relying on the performer’s creativity and the energy it generates also opens up myriad possibilities. “Every performance is different... it is a creation of that moment in time. This is why it is called Today,” he says.

Jennifer Kishan is a freelance writer and photojournalist based in Kolkata

Published on December 12, 2019
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