Ceremony of Longing: Diya Naidu’s dance piece focuses on pain and healing

The latest edition of the ritualistic performance is slated to take place at The Courtyard in Bengaluru on September 16 and September 19

A glimpse from the dance piece

By Reema Gowalla

Among the many lessons that the pandemic taught us, listening — not just to others but also to the voice within us — is probably one of the most salient. But to listen to any voice, we also need to practise patience. A group of movement artists in Bengaluru have been making an effort to lend an ear to people’s stories, process these through their dancing bodies and present them in a ritualistic form, called the Ceremony of Longing.

As the title suggests, ‘longing’ — which we almost invariably consider too shameful or guilt-ridden to express openly — is the focal point of the performance. The purpose of the show that runs for about 90 minutes can be summarised as “may we know what we long for, and may this longing guide us”. Choreographed by Diya Naidu, the performance space is shared by a cast of four — with Maitreyee Joshi, Seher Noor Mehra, Akshata Joshi, Paridhi Bihani, Snigdha Prabhakar and Diya taking turns.

Diya Naidu

So, is this sort of an improv? “No, not at all,” says Diya, explaining, “In fact, stories are solicited days in advance. It’s a voluntary task, though. You can share your story only if you want to, and choose to stay anonymous throughout. In the ceremony, the stories, chants and the performers’ dancing bodies are used as tools to investigate and demonstrate our yearnings. There are other elements too that are invited to support the work, while the audiences stand witness as the ceremony is performed. The performers’ bodies are the interface to recognize the longing within them, and then dance in its honour.”

The structure used to conduct the ceremony roughly looks like this:

  • Invocation and creation of sacred space through song and dance
  • Working with chants, dance and the story
  • Weaving a tapestry that includes stories from past ceremonies

The ceremony doesn’t end at acknowledging our inner longings. “At the end of the show, witnesses are invited to share their yearnings, which are then documented and studied. The idea is to encourage people to look within, internalise and express their longings. The whole project is mindfully crafted as a tool to help a community come together and heal; creating a place where you shrug off your inhibitions and fear, in a bid to forge a connection with oneself and with others,” elaborates the dancer-choreographer.

‘Ceremony of Longing’ focusses on healing

In the performance, the entranced body — the one which is closest to nature — is called upon. The performers then recall the rituals of their ancestors, who danced to ‘know’ and ‘sense’. Through this, they see and seek by connecting to embodied reality. Among its guiding principles and discoveries are: “how we treat the earth is closely related to how we treat ourselves; the body in a deep state of expression allows for knowing, seeing and sensing that is beyond verbal and rational realms; we can sense each other’s subtle realities through the sensitised body; and when one heals, all heal”.

A Citizens of Stage Co Lab presentation, Ceremony of Longing premiered toward the end of 2020, as an immediate response to the void and numbness that the raging virus had created within us. Maintaining all the safety protocols, the first live show took place in November. Diya says the team is grateful to art spaces in the city like Shoonya — Centre for Art and Somatic Practices and The Courtyard for helping them to conduct the ceremonies amid all the restrictions.

Is there a common thread in the stories that you receive? “The commonality is hard to describe, but the longings often stem from similar feelings and experiences. We have received stories of mental trauma led by a physical injury, sexual abuse and forced abortion, among others. Things that may seem easy on the surface often make a deep impact on people’s psyche. Working on these individual stories also demands a great level of devotion and understanding. That’s one of the reasons we now only focus on one story for a performance. Earlier it was up to four stories,” add Diya.

Deepthi Bhaskar is in charge of sound training and editing of the performance, while among the facilitators are Masoom Parmar, Abhay Mahajan, Dipankar Panth, Beatrice Simmons and John-Luke Edwards.

Catch the latest edition of Ceremony of Longing at The Courtyard on September 16 and September 19 at 7 pm. You can book your tickets here.

The performance space is shared by a cast of four

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