Arpan’s YAVANIKA – The story behind Veiled Perspectives

YAVANIKA – Veiled Perspectives is a dance theater production about human perspectives told through an interesting story of two women holding divergent values of life. It hopes to address the conflict that inevitably arises today when highly polarized views are forced to coexist- How does one  “make judgment calls in their bid for survival” ? YAVANIKA’s artistic director, Dr. Joyce Paul Siamak through this narration aims to answer this question. BN&WWW talks to Joyce who can be mildly described as “absolutely delightful”. “The talks and interactions with her have always yielded intellectual content. I am sure readers realize that it is a select few blessed souls that have both these attributes” says Sangeetha Shyam. Here is a transcript of the email conversation that happened between Joyce and BN&WWW.

Photo Credit: Siamak Poursabahian

Photo Credit: Siamak Poursabahian

BN&WWW:  Hi Joyce! I am sure a lot of women can relate well to the concept behind Yavanika. I personally struggle while having to choose between a woman who sees the futility of fighting fate and one who tries to carve her own. Congratulations on coming up with such a wonderful revolutionary concept. Do you think that behind YAVANIKA is this underlying personal experience of  Joyce growing up in India (where submission is a virtue valued in women) and moving on to West (where women are perceived to be more in control of their circumstances)

Joyce: I think all human beings struggle with this duality. I connect better with the struggles and trials of women. You are right, there is an underlying personal experience but it is definitely not a by-product of changing countries of residence. (moving to the US has its own hilarious stories which I may one day convert to a fun production or book 🙂 ). Both in India and US, I met lots of people with unique personalities ranging from the woman in the lunch line at the MS cafeteria who insisted she had seen me before, proceeded to have lunch with me and pour her heart out about her boy-friend; the silent woman who quietly suffered years of marital abuse and a tech savvy working woman who did not leave her boyfriend jailed (for seven yrs) for drugs and alcohol abuse. Some were condoned by the society and some worshiped as role models. Each struggled with their own challenges.

At the heart of YAVANIKA is the story of my friend from under-grad days who was made to believe that she was destined to suffer the fate imposed by the ominous positions of constellations at the time of her birth. Thrown into a tight corner of predicated disaster by the Hindu priest and numerologist who wrote her horoscope, she was coerced into a marriage which went downhill right at the onset. My heart bled for this talented, beautiful and bright friend. The spitfire in me (totally got it from my Mom 🙂 ) tried for about 16 years to inspire and “release” her from her predicament.

Nothing changed.

I grew older. My frustration and desperation to ‘liberate’ her from her situation turned into a mellow understanding of why she was unable to pick up her own life. Maybe she was happy in some sense. Maybe I was seeing it all wrong. Maybe she did not need the ‘release’ badly enough. Maybe there were enough things going well for her. Maybe this was her ‘choice’, which though outwardly considered weak, kindled the desire in her to complain and rant but inwardly brought solace and inertia invisible to the spectator.

I was that spectator.  I could not see. I had to remove my colored glasses. I had to first discover the veil in front of my eyes.

What are your personal expectations with Yavanika?

My personal expectation is to bring this realization to life and to have my viewers appreciate other human beings who are not in their “league”.

I wish to instill among viewers the idea that if we were to make an effort to take off the myopic glasses that vitiate our opinions and actions, then our transformed snapshot of life would enable us to honor other people’s perspectives, thereby creating more tolerance, patience, and love all around.

By dancing as well as I can, despite my limitations, I expect to inspire all those who suffer from chronic ailments. Show them that if there is strong will, determination and passion for the arts (or anything for that matter), they can still cause the reverberations for social change through their art even if they may not conform to “normal’’ standards of performance.

I had a strong desire to bring in different talents together with Yavanika. I am already doing so with art design, jewelry making, costume designing, screen printing, music composition, dance choreography, multiple dance styles, mixed media rangolis etc but having a forum such as ArtStage and having the opportunity to have artists be inspired by the storyline of my dream project and paint for it was totally beyond my expectations!!

ARPAN is really proud to support and encourage local artist in presenting and selling their work through KPC’s ArtStage program.

Tell us little bit about the choreographic process.

I love choreographing challenging concepts basically because you cannot use pre-defined moves and ideas that most dancers are used to (think Krishna stealing butter, Radha’s tirade against Krishna’s behavior, sagar manthan, etc,.). There may not even be any mudras in the Natya shastra/Abhinaya Darpana that I could use. Now what? How do I convey what I want to?

Choreographing Yavanika and especially the Elements of Life has been extremely challenging. Lack of finances to create spectacular props that could support ideation meant being more creative and thinking outside the box to generate the right bhava and impact. I spent more time over the script mulling over the concepts and ideation than I did in the studio. Animate & inanimate, positive & negative, challenging and nurturing… all had to be encapsulated into the persona of the Elements of Life (played by six dancers) who in turn provide the external impetus for the two primary characters to make choices in the maze of life.

Drawing upon multiple art forms to create the movement effect I needed was a very interesting thing to do for eg., using Chhau and Kalaripayattu for the martial sections or using Mohiniyattam to show the ebb and flow of life. Living in WA and teaching at non-Indian dance institutes has allowed me to include western movement sensibilities in my choreography.

Everything I have created can be validated from a scriptural perspective I am sure but I believe they are movements not commonly seen in mainstream Bharatanatyam choreography. The Yavanika dancers love it when I come up with something de-novo. I am not sure what my neurons are doing at this point but physically I can say that I stare at the mirror without blinking for minutes at a stretch until my body starts to move automagically 🙂

How do your background in anthropology and kinesiology influence your approach to dance?

Anthropology gives me a social, physical and cultural look into dancers as organic human unit – allows me to understand their limitations and capabilities.

The knowledge of human physiology and performance allows me to sensitize dancers to their own bodies, understand their structural limitations and work around them to achieve kinetic excellence. It is an incredible sense of achievement to re-configure an adavu or jathi in a manner that suits different somatotypes and looks equally beautiful.

Were there any challenges from Yavanika’s inception, can you share with us?

The concepts being danced in Yavanika are pretty non-tangible. I did not have the pleasure of being able to show a mountain, trees, eating butter etc that are not just easy for the dancer but easy on the audience too. For e.g., the script requires the main character to question notions and principles that she has nurtured her entire life. How do I show this in dance and how do I create a full length production on this esp., given that traditional training leading to an Arangetram doesn’t prepare and equip us to create for amorphous ideas such as these.

Another challenge was that of creating music as a parallel processing act between Redmond and LA :). Despite technological advances, conveying a movement idea to musician miles away and plugging created music into my work in the studio still has its challenges.

Yet another challenge is leading the corp dancers to feel the idea of Elements of Life – Inanimate as well as animate; nurturing as well as challenging. Not having danced to such concepts before, the onus of bringing out the best in them is mine. I hope I have been able to inspire them not just for YAVANIKA but to carry on their Y experiences to other productions and arenas.

You have used dancers from different dance schools in this production? Any specific reason? And how was/ is this experience? Dancers from different schools bring in different artistic sensibilities.. while the diversity of perspectives may be refreshing, there could also be conflicts arising from the same. Your experience?

I wanted to reach out to the local community of dancers and extend my ideation. Arpanites will mostly subscribe to my choreographic ideas and aesthetics merely because of the time I spend with them. I wanted the challenge of throwing my raw, nebulous concept to a zone where I may or may not be accepted. Super happy to say that this is exactly what inspired five well established dancers in the community to audition for Yavanika. Of these two are dancing on the 22nd.

It has been a great experience. Although their artistic sensibilities are different, they came inspired by the story line and two of them who had always wanted to work with me were excited to get the opportunity (see Tanvee and Prashanti’s comments in the Cast page)

How did the local community of dancers reflect on Yavanika’s concept? Did their experiences influence the “nebulous concept”?

All the dancers who came for the audition came primarily because they were drawn to the storyline and the non-Arpanites because they had a desire to work with me and this seemed like the perfect opportunity. I think the story line becomes personal to everyone upon reflection and it was easy to connect the dots in their own lives. Being able to live it out on stage was not just a liberating experience but a challenge in itself. How can you as a dancer represent the animate and the inanimate; the joyful and the dreadful all in one breath? It’s hard….the dancers desire to take on the challenge is a powerful motivator for the whole team.

The local dancers who are choreographers in their own rights were curious to see how I would convert such a nebulous concept into reality. They also wanted a break from the pressure of being choreographers and just wanted to be dancers :). So they lend themselves to my ideation and were as malleable and flexible as I wanted them to be. For a choreographer this is super important.

What kind of music is Yavanika going to be danced to?

It is essentially Carnatic backbone interlaced and overlaid with “world music” flavor. You can hear a snatch of it in our promo videos.  For the part of the Tango dancers, we have an upbeat Tango Nuevo feeling with a clear, driving beat.

There is no poetry being recited. No songs being sung. No dialogues being delivered. No “description” of the program prior to the show. I believe my script and choreography is so universal and contemporary in nature that nritta and abhinaya should provide us an adequate means to communicate.

Joyce, I realize that it takes courage to leave behind a stable career in a Dream company and dive into dance? Any regrets? What would you say to others who are thinking of doing the same?

Not really. Working to build Arpan or doing the million administrative and production tasks for Yavanika don’t really feel like work although it is a killer. It sometimes leaves you with no time to focus on your own “riyaz” or disciplined rehearsals which in itself is a paradox.

I love User Experience Research and I frequently do 3-4 month contracts with Microsoft. It gives me chance to charge my left brain and get my IT fix 🙂

What’s next?

Ummm….eating ice cream, watching TV with my husband, resting, going for walks with my Dad, hanging out with my sister who is here from India? You are all invited to our post -show party at Arpan Studios on March 29th.  🙂


22 March 2014 YAVANIKA veiled perspectives | Dance theatre production 8:00  pm Kirkland Performance Center
14 March 2014 YAVANIKA veiled perspectives              Artist Reception before HAPA performance 6:30 to 7:30 pm Kirkland Performance Center
01 Feb to 15 Apr 2014 YAVANIKA veiled perspectives    – Art exhibition inspired by the story of Yavanika Tues – Sat  | 12 pm to 6 pm KPC lobby

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