Ephemeral/Stable: Exploring Multi-dimensionalities Of The Theatre and The Archive

Madhuri Dixit

(A roundup on the Performance Making and the Archive Conference held at IIT Bombay on 16-17th March 2018).

During mid-March 2018, a group of international theatre and performance scholars, archivists and practitioners gathered in the Jal Vihar guesthouse conference room of IIT Bombay besides the tranquil waters of Powai Lake. They were there to reflect on the archive and its relationship to the process of creating a performance. A collage of heated discussions, words of wisdom, bubbles of laughter, and wonderful presentations emerged during the two days' conference, organised by the department of HSS at IIT Bombay with support from the 'AAA-Inlaks Art Grant 2017-18'. The conference, conceptualised by Sharmistha Saha of IIT Bombay and Ashutosh Potdar of FLAME University, Pune, attempted to construct a multilayered dialogue around archival practice and performing arts practice. Performance is usually understood as an ephemeral phenomenon located in the present. The archive on the other hand is supposed to be a relatively stable entity that deals with the past.

Discussions opened on the first day with veteran theatre scholar Samik Bandyopadhyay's sketch of archival journey of Indian theatres. He explicated the learning process of early generations of Indian theatre scholars experienced in generating theatre archives. They realised that divisions between various cultural practices were unreal and artificial in the Indian context and felt that there was a need to restructure the existing anthropological interview methods for oral theatre history projects so as to remove unwanted dominance from the process and create a conversational space. His small sketch of achievements and pitfalls of archiving some of the Indian theatres like the Bengali theatre was followed by another overview of archiving performances in India by a 'very nuts and bolt archive person', Shubha Chaudhuri, who explained the significance of unedited archival recording. Both of these, the keynote and the presentation, which set the ground for the proposed discussion, found an ally in a later presentation that day (30 Minutes about Mumbai's Theatre History) by the well-known playwright Ramu Ramanathan. In an anecdotal, alphabetical mode, Ramu Ramanathan highlighted several lesser-known, historical aspects of theatres in Mumbai while showcasing their interdependence and use of resources. In his presentation, the city with a theatre industry of the order of 15-20 crores in terms of its box office collection, came across as a large archive of performances, of theatres as well as of theatre practitioners. Archiving the Archive, an intricately designed mediatised project by Ishita Jain and Gavin Keeney further called attention to the inevitability of performance for archive.

Instead of the past, the archival document pointed to the present in Amitesh Grover's presentation that reflected on the live-ness of the editable document on the Internet. The surplus of data that is created is towards the production of archives that acquire an oscillatory nature based on certain algorithms online. In his presentation titled Performapedia Grover asked if a performance could take place to produce an archive. If so, does performance then fundamentally change in nature? With his colleague, Arnika, he performed a project called Back To Work in which they became employees of an IT company and participated in the everyday life of the staff. This was an attempt partially uploaded on the Pad.ma Internet archive and claimed that the document gets realised in the instance of the performance. The discussion following this presentation raised concerns over the ethics of research as the question of sharing of data of the performance becomes debatable.

Some theatre practitioners/directors took the opportunity to probe into their own works for archival impulse of varied kinds including autobiographical narratives. Sushma Deshpande's presentation recorded the procedure of creating a performance out of Urmila Pawar’s autobiography Aaydaan. She was eloquent about challenges at various levels that a director faces when creating a performance from a document. Hina Siddiqui's theatre practice explored the narratives of existence, particularly of the subalterns. The two strands running parallel in her research juxtaposed lived and imagined reality, and their complications.

Savitri Medhatul and Sharvari Sastri's paper titled Archiving Lavani Through Performance: Sangeet Bari - A Case Study focused on performance that can be perceived as revitalisation of archival material. They brought to life the folk dance form of Lavani from Maharashtra in their theatre production SANGEET BARI and sought to understand how the archival impulse works in performance.

Professor Freddie Rokem's (author of Philosophers and Thespians) recorded lecture The Dramaturgy of Archive distinguished performance archive from other institutional archives operational in the governmental sense. Archive and Repertoire share the relationship that “Langue” and “Parole” do to use an analogy from Linguistics. In a very different take on archives, Professor Soumybrata Chatterjee in his presentation titled Archive and Performance; Madness and Revolution: On Marat, Sade and Theroigne de Mericourt', elaborated on how the 'error' in a mystic turn of events be explained as revolution or with terrible consequences be even called madness. Traversing fact and fiction surrounding the historical figures of Marat, Sade and Theroigne de Mericourt, including the sleeping sickness of Theroigne de Mericourt, and touching on various debates around documentary theatre that tried to know what happened in the happening, he gradually reached the conclusion that archive entirely owes its existence to theatre. Benil Biswas came full circle in his presentation on the performance and a curatorial piece Samnandraba Mami by Kalakshetra Academy, Manipur when he stated that all performing arts have mutual relationships and it does not help to segregate them artificially. This aspect had also been addressed in the keynote. Benil Biswas’ focus was also on the ideas coming out of praxis, for instance from the Late Kanhailal's theatre practice. The Seagull Theatre Quarterly during the nineties also lent a significant voice to the discourse about performance and the archiving impulse. Biswas’ proposition appears useful in context of script-less theatres that try to respond to volatile realities as seen in examples from theatre in Manipur.

The discussion was widened to include some arguments originating from the western discourse of performance and archive with participation of foreign scholars, some of who presented and participated online. Victoria Blakaney took up the question of how dance performance catalogue be reconsidered to support body practice. Her focus on the key mechanisms operational in the relationship of performance with archive was to examine the complex relationship between embodied practice and textual discourse. It led to questioning of the archive's claim to original status and completeness as contemporary art practice focuses on presenting the present. In her view, the gaps, fissures and instability make practice a binary site of knowledge.

Roder, Borie and Lee’s research attempted to understand the life of artifacts outside the archive/museum by bringing them into contact with the banality of everyday life, thus providing the artifacts with a new context. The 'Inside Out' project that would run long in the future will consist of number of museum objects of the order of hundreds, being taken outside the Zuiderzee museum (in Holland) and into the public and then returned after a long journey. The direct relation between performance and archive as work and its resource became evident in the presentation by Italian filmmaker, editor and video designer, Chiara Crupi who works on the Odin Teatret Archives.

Calling attention to the important question of gaze, Nela Milic’s presentation, Materialising Site is derived from her PhD project, Balkanising Taxonomy. Researching Belgrade city as a site for spectacle and protest, Milic created an archive of the peaceful protests during the Serbian uprisings in '96-97. For non-western societies, the western gaze in it self poses a big problem. The Indian experience can very well relate to this point. Milic spoke about creating unacceptable images of the colonised/subaltern/the other through curatorial practices.

With one or two misses, the conference thus presented an array of archival practices, including mediatised ones and ended each day with contextual performances such as LADY ANANDI and WORDS HAVE BEEN UTTERED. The organisers' plan to highlight the existing dialogue between archive, research and creation in the contemporary context was mostly successful even though a stronger linking between the sessions and the presentations would have been preferred. Nevertheless the conference made a significant contribution to the discourse of performance making and the archive and touched upon a wide range of socio-political dimensions. Moving beyond the stable towards more ephemeral characteristics of the archive and the performance, the discussion pondered upon the symbiotic relationship that the performance and archive share and how that relationship can be strengthened and transformed in turn.

*Madhuri Dixit works as Associate Professor in Pemraj Sarda College at Ahmednagar (MH). She recently completed her doctoral research at the Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Mumbai on the topic, 'Representation of Women in Marathi Theatre'. She occasionally writes on socio-cultural issues in the print media. Handicrafts, travel and children's literature constitute her other interests.

read / post your comments


- Remembering Badal Babu (new)
- On Originality and Copyright In Theatre (new)
- The Colossus That Was Bapurao Naik (new)
- Theatrewallahs in Search of a High and Mighty Nose Because we live in a day and age where perfect nonsense goes on in the world, sometimes there is no plausibility at all
- The International Theatre Institute's Message For World Theatre Day 2019 by Carlos Celdrán...
- Let Us Unite To Be Independent Jayant Pawar's Thought-Provoking Speech At The 'Let Us Unite' Programme In Honour of Nayantara Sahgal
- Art In Place of War An Overview Of The Festival By Artists Unite! At The Red Fort In Delhi
- DETECTIVE NAU DO GYRAH And The Pandora's Box That None Of Us Can Ignore
- The Theatre Of The Clown: Reflections On An International Clowning Festival in Mumbai
- The Bard Keeps Unlikely Company
- Rangashankara's 14th Theatre Festival on
- One Man's Bhimsen Is Another Man's Miles Davies Playwright Ramu Ramanathan reflects on the music and songs in some of his plays.
- Theatre As Religion: Veteran Thespian Kamlakar Sontakke On His Time In The Theatre
- Left Behind In Half Measure (In Memoriam: Dr Hemu Adhikari by Kamlakar Nadkarni. Translated from the original obituary in Marathi by Deepa Karmalkar)
- Hemu Kaka: The Last of the Theatre Mohicans

   Discussion Board

About Us | Feedback | Contact Us | Write to us | Careers | Free Updates via SMS