Contemporary dancer Zia Nath shares with Boski Gupta what it takes to go footloose while interpreting the couplets of Meer, Faiz, Zafar and more…
Music has a strange relation with dance. You find your feet tapping inadvertently to the tunes of a peppy number; or your fingers may just start clicking without your knowledge when a song you like is played. Dancers also say that body movements are not dependent on musical strings and percussions. You tend to dance with joy without any music around. We all know how our feet start to rock and roll to an invisible violin when we’re in love! But what about dancing on words… how does poetry inspire you to dance?
Zia Nath will dance to poetry today, and that too poetry penned by likes of Ghalib, Meer and Saahir. “Dancing only on words is a powerful experience. It’s like I can hear the music and rhythm in the movement. I always wondered if dance came first or music. It’s an inseparable relationship. And in this kind of an exploration, I’m able to see clearly how the body can express itself to emotions that come from deep within,” says Nath who is collaborating with Tom Alter for his play Safar-E-Shayari which is a part of Jashn-E-Maazi festival.
Alter has chosen 34 poems of poets ranging from Sauda to Parveen Shakir, taking the time span of more than 200 years. “Poetry always adds beauty to expressions. The language and rhythm automatically make the poem musical,” says Alter to which Nath adds, “This expression itself creates a rhythmic harmony. The outer expression of the body (in dance) reflecting the inner emotion (in poetry). It feels like the poetry has become the music to which the body dances.”
It’s not every day that dancers match the rhythms and meters of poetry but Nath, who is a renowned contemporary dancer herself, found the concept very experimenting and challenging. “I was very happy to hear about this concept and it’s always a privilege to work with Tom. In Indian classical dance, it is quite common to do dance translations to poetry and prose. However, this design by Tom is different. He wanted just movement and poetry — to present the dances as a literal translation as well as portray the essence in abstract form,” she says. It may seem easy to translate words into actions but on stage it’s an uphill task. “This is very stimulating in a creative process so I have enjoyed doing this with Tom and also it’s organic, it’s live. As I get deeper with the poetry, move closer to it and embrace it as my own experience, it changes my dance, the quality, the gesture, and finally the essence that reaches out to the audience,” she explains.
Alter has established himself as one of the popular thespians today. His love for Urdu and poetry is well-known hence it comes as no surprise that one play is only dedicated to the poets of India. “It’s my tribute to the poets I like. Some go back to 200 years ago while many like Nida Fazli are contemporary. Some are known, some unknown but all have contributed beautiful gems to the Indian literature,” Alter says. Nath, who is a trained Odissi dancer, agrees that poetry always enhances her work. “It’s an ongoing process of discovering the poets’ expression within my own body – from this experience I am discovering how the dances emerge. So it’s like a process that is in the present continuous… letting the dance meet the recital in a natural organic way, rather than a rehearsed choreographed way,” she adds.
While Alter will recite few poems, Uday Chandra will also sing a few couplets. “Participating in such novel concepts is always both demanding and fun. I hope we continue to do more such discoveries,” says Chandra. Nath agrees that such plays add to the profile of all the artistes. “I always learn so much when I work with Tom. I learn about the finer aspects of art, its expression… Working with him on stage always opens up the subtle and more intuitive aspects of communication, the natural cooperation and cohesiveness that is there as well as understanding the poetry together – creatively working out the different nuances of expressing the poetry – it’s all been a very enriching experience,” she says adding that though she always loved poetry the show will be something different for her. “I use a lot of poetry in my own dance productions. In just a few lines poetry lends the main theme to the show. It’s a crystallised expression of a vast or deep experience,” she adds.
Words always add to music and expression. It is true that a lot can be said while staying silent or via just movements and gestures but words can add beauty to the already graceful motions. Nath says that she can relate to the show as a dancer, communicating the emotions and essential spirit of the poems as well as the poet. “Sometimes in literal translation through dance, sometimes an abstract expression, sometimes being the poet, sometimes being the subject of the poetry… Sometimes the poetry is so sad and deep, it becomes a portal where the poet find his liberation. This is also expressed through the dance — experiencing the light through my dance for a poem that is very dark. I relate to the paradox that is weaving itself through the poems – in its expression and experience.”