‘Dark Things’: A Spaced Out Performance

Posted by Steven George in Culture-Vulture, Specials
April 20, 2018

The work “Dark Things” materialized from an elective course in ‘Musical Theatre’, taught to MA Performance Studies in the School of Culture and Creative Expressions at AUD.

The recently held “Tenth Ambedkar Memorial Lecture” addressed by Homi K Bhabha appears to converge at various junctures with the “Dark Things”. The cry and silence at the beginning of the lecture through music, and in the inability to speak in the performance, flecks an exploration of the absent voices. It transports us to a scene of staging the absent and the voiceless.

Bhabha explains the Right to Movement as a fundamental freedom, inseparable from human rights. The exercise of which, according to Hannah Arendt, can be traced from the inception of human life. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights, 1948 in its Article 13 includes Right to Movement.

It seems that the biggest crisis in every democracy is of refugees and immigrants. The conception of a nation-state has imposed heavy lines, not only on the geographical boundaries but on humanity per say.

Suvir Kaul, in her essay Separation Anxiety: Growing Up Inter/National in Amitav Ghosh’s “The Shadow Lines” writes: “War against a common enemy ratifies boundaries and deepens the ideological and international oppositions necessary to mould an internally coherent national identity. It legitimizes the claim of the state to be the sole agent and authority of violence.”

The dilemma of a refugee in their identification with a nation to which they do not belong to anymore is frightening. Along with that, the fear that the new state could unleash the worst forms of cruelty on them legally because of their lack of membership/legal identity is another factor. Are human rights to be preserved only when one is affiliated to a membership of the state?

The play’s first scene portrays the refugees, devoid of any rights and vulnerable to state powers. In its vitality, the question Bhabha raises: Is any country interested in stateless people and finding about them?

It is depicted by tents, people with disembarked identities and a narration of the poem: “I saw people walk into the brightest nothing, What kind of night is this?” that echoes the plight of the crisis of the refugee.

Bhabha in his lecture contemplated the paradox of ‘Citizen in the Refugee and the Refugee in the Citizen’ present in Avinash Dolas’ short story “The Refugee”.

The polluted presence of the refugees is visible in the people from India’s lower castes. Most of them are known as ‘half-citizens’ or ‘partial citizens’. The performance includes not only the caste and refugee proximity but includes other oppressed sections too.

The feeling of ‘being nothing’ is not a condition peculiar to refugees but is present in the citizens too. These partial citizens have only peripheral access to the rights, which to Bhabha, is even more dangerous. I believe that this is where the crux of the performance is situated. The paradoxical citizen is portrayed in the manual scavengers who live in equally bad conditions. Along with them, workers who are kept under degrading and laborious conditions, and the woman who in any condition are the first casualty to be seized of any dignity or right, face the same situation.

It is not likely for an audience to actually see a JCB excavator in a performance. Such incorporations simply break the conventions of the material limitations of a stage performance. However, in my opinion, the real transformation was of the space. The entire stage was converted with the help of props and a few performers. These tactics actually helped expand the scope of performances and spaces and provided the enactment with a liquidity and flow.

The performance uses various properties to depict the homelessness, which could be institutionalised as well as forced upon. The literal display of a huge hammer iterates the act of irrecoverable and mass damages being caused by acts of killings, lynching, mob violence and wars. Also, to me, it portrays the routine legal black holes which creates a legal void for such performatives to occur.

Homi Bhabha’s concern is mostly with the level of destruction, but his horror is also ingrained in the contingency of the future. The anxiety of the unknowability of the future for him, should be the impetus for committing ourselves towards a movement. This movement is not only about extending solidarity with the oppressed, but also to construct propositions for the future.

In other words, we should at least be thinking of ourselves as we could be at that position in the future. The brilliance of music further supports the performances and leave a haunting memory in the minds of the viewer.

The performance was based on a script for an “Oratorio” by Ari Sitas, and Purav Goswami has created the composition for the performance. The Musical Theatre cohort, was created under the guidance of Anuradha Kapur, Deepan Sivaraman and Sumangala Damodaran.

There were a total of twenty performers (graduate and current students of the School of Culture and Creative Expressions) and few workers who operated the small tempo, JCB Excavator and nitrogen balloons. The musical distinction is to be credited to Chandran Veyattummal from Kerala and Reza Khota from South African.

The performance on April 18, 2018, was the opening show. There is another show on April 19, 2018, in the same venue ‘Social Science Block Parking lot, Kashmere Gate Campus, AUD’ at 7:30 pm. Entry free.