Lubnah: Why has the title of your project, #JeSuis, turned into a mockery for you?
Aakash: The hashtag symbolized that if you hurt them or if you hurt me, you hurt everyone. So the intention was quite naive but honest and sincere. It was this idea of unity and finding identity. After about eight shows the dancers automatically started to become sarcastic because they were improvising. And I kept telling them: stop being sarcastic. Be serious. When they were trying to be serious it didn’t feel sincere. Slowly, it started to become a mockery for me. Mockery in the sense of: are hashtags really going to save the world? Are they? And when you’re hashtagging Je Suis Charlie, what about the people in other places of the world? There’s so many people which are left out with this hashtag. For me, hashtag really is a sense of going from #JeSuis to #NousSommes.
Now I question what this hashtag means, and what this whole political situation means. You know there are so many different layers of what’s happening, there’s only so much you know. The camps that we went through were relatively good but the real chaos is on the islands. People are actually killing each other daily, with knives. We don’t see it, but it happens everywhere. There is a mask. I’m opening up this conversation and saying there’s a mask on everything. We are often only able to uncover the first layer but there’s another ten underneath that. We came to the conclusion that there’s no way that with this performance are we going to find a conclusion. There is no way I am going to find a solution. And there’s no way there’s going to be a beginning, middle and a concluding end to the truth of what’s happening. Maybe it might end up being fabricated, the end, or changed slightly just to give your sense of satisfaction of a particular story. But because the layers are so deeply politically and on the level of humanity I don’t think #JeSuis is going to have the answer we were all looking for it to have.
It’s really impossible for anyone to digest the truth or the enormity of the truth. Sometimes we’ve got to give something, which is only face value, to be able to scratch the surface or give someone a sense of this is the first door, and say, ‘try and walk through it’. Because if you give the magnitude of the ocean, with the door we are opening up, it would flood the premises. People wouldn’t want to enter it. So the hashtag was my sincere step deeper into this subject.
It’s important to remember where the gem started and why it started because then it’s easy to get lost. For instance, in comparison through the story of Centaur and the Labyrinth, #JeSuis serves as the thread in the beginning of the labyrinth. Through this thread, I can always find my way back out. If I don’t have this thread, as soon as I go to the labyrinth, I will be eaten by the monsters of whatever exists. And that’s why this hashtag is the constant reminder of the essence of where it started off. So although I ridicule maybe the way I looked at it, the title is the sincere beginning of this piece. If it wasn’t for this title, maybe I wouldn’t have met everyone I’ve met so far on this journey.
Lubnah: In Class, we discussed how dance is often interpreted as a universal language but ironically it can also be interpreted in multiple different ways. How exactly does that influence your choreography, just knowing that?
Aakash: When people are watching, they can interpret it as anything they want. But for me when I watch a lot of contemporary dance, it’s so abstract that I don’t feel moved by it, I feel that there has to be a human element to it as well. That, if my mother came to watch the show she should be able to roughly understand what’s happening. That’s my personal feeling. So, I also add another layer which is the narrative which I try to keep a little bit clear. You know that there is some sort of a beginning, some sort of a middle, and some sort of an end.
Then, the third layer is the openness of what it can be. It can be interpreted as anything and for me, on that level, there is no right or wrong. See, the problem in this world is we are so goddamn judgemental about everything. Each and everything is: that’s right; that’s wrong. According to this religion this is right; according to this religion this is wrong. Here in this book it’s written as this and in this one, it’s written – it’s so fucking black and white. Everything is black and white. The problem is people don’t look beyond this [holds his hands in front of his face, palms facing his eyes] what’s in front of them. If they for a second look sincerely within themselves just to look and judge for themselves. Remove themselves out of their own political, religious, social beliefs, remove themselves out of these situations and looked on a human… humane level, it would have a different interpretation. Every character’s perspective is right. Even the bad one. That’s what makes a good story. Because it’s only through the conviction of that character that character is going forward. We consider why did that person become who they had become. What led them to that situation? Therefore, there’s gotta be a zillion interpretations and I can’t say that it’s a bad thing for it to be different from the next person. I think that’s good as long as you have positive discourse about it. As long as you can discuss it, and it doesn’t become a debate of negativity and egos.
Before humans developed a verbal way of communicating, we communicated through gesture, through eyes, through body language. Just the way animals communicate. Animals don’t speak but they manage to completely communicate. They know when it’s time for them to mate, they know when it’s time for them to raise their chicks or their boo, they know where to hide them, they know where to find each other. Because they use different ways of communication. One of them is body language. Simple things as the dilation of the pupil of an animal will tell the other one what it’s trying to say. In that same manner, as humans we also have an instinctive language of movement, of body language which is beyond the linguistics skills that we have developed. It’s far more ancient and far more rooted in us. Though we have been trained to move away from it, I believe dance becomes a language without words. I think it becomes a language which isn’t locked with a geographical boundary.
Lubnah: How did dance become meaningful to you?
Aakash: See, I’ve always danced since I learned to walk. I always danced. And I learned to walk on my toes so they said that he’ll be a dancer. When I was sad I would dance, when I was happy I would dance, when I was thinking I would dance. Everything. Picking up a glass wouldn’t just be picking up a glass. I would choreograph how I would pick the glass up. I would put pennies unto – as a three-year-old child, I remember – put pennies unto the floor and move the pennies like this [moves around imaginary pennies on the couch] and imagine these pennies are bodies and those bodies are dancing. So, for me dance was always my being.
I was fascinated with history, with culture. Even though I wasn’t born in India, there was something about this land that felt very mystical to me. It felt very connected to me, even though I wasn’t born there. And I used to be fascinated with the mythologies of the gods and goddesses. Our gods danced, you know, a lot of the other gods, I don’t know if they dance. One of my gods definitely is a dancing god. I felt that through the sense of dance I was able to speak to god. I was able to connect to god.
Dance clearly had so much meaning. But when something has so much meaning for so long and it becomes a part of your life, you forget that it has so much meaning. Because it’s like saying: When did breathing have meaning in your life? Breathing, from the moment you took your first breath, life had started, your heart was beating. That was the meaning that it had. And it was essential it kept you alive and then eventually breathing became a part of what you do every day but you never really thought about it. How often do you sit down and focus on your breathing? Rarely, right? I do that. Because it reminds me of my dance, life, why I am here, the essence. Every day, I wake up it’s a new day and a new life. And that new life is a new incarnation and in that incarnation I have to find a reason why I dance and why it has meaning. So, although it had meaning from that point, when I think back to it, every day I have to find a meaning of why I breathe and why I dance and why it has meaning. So, I think dance has the ability to go beyond the tags that we give it. And it has a meaning for me every day but it also loses its meaning for me every day as well.