Since July 2016, and perhaps even earlier, the paintings of Amrita Sher-Gil have been an obsession. It is not just that the colours seem to cause a physical shift in my body, but that the characters start moving and speaking straight out of the paintings. As a dancer I am intrigued.
I have been meditating with her paintings for a project titled: Self Portraits with Amrita. Amrita Sher-Gil painted many self-portraits. She tried to see herself through her paintings. To look at them is to begin seeing oneself, again, perhaps form new perspectives. I felt the concept of the self-portrait would be a way to discover who we are as dancers. Kathaks in Canada.
Amrita was part European artist, part Indian, Punjabi aristocrat. Her paintings contain the meadows of Europe and the mud earth of rural Punjab. But she had an intimate relationship with the bodies of her subjects, whether alone or in groups. Her people are in a world of their own. The haldi (turmeric) grinders partly resting from their heavy chore, the bride surrounded by women while she readies for her ceremony, are fully immersed in their own moment. Amrita celebrates their lives in lines and colours, always evoking the earth and rural landscape they inhabit.
This is rich material for me as a choreographer. It is full of body language, colours, shapes, relationships and much more. One of the things that interests me is the sense of community amongst the people in the paintings. The bodies are often touching or tilted towards one another. There is a sense of sharing.
For our initial explorations we decided to collaborate with women from the Punjabi communities in Brampton and Ottawa. These ladies get together to sing and dance Punjabi folk songs. As Arzoo dancers merged with this communal celebration, slowly the colours and shapes of Amrita’s paintings began to emerge.