Contemporary gestural performer, Amitabh Srivastava’s latest show acknowledges the importance of a name

Shifting Syllables —  acknowledges and attempts to reflect on the societal repercussions, through various perspectives via body gestures

author_img Manasvi Pote Published :  10th November 2023 12:00 AM   |   Published :   |  10th November 2023 12:00 AM

Amitabh Srivastava

Often times, we tend to underestimate the significance of a language’s basic unit — the syllable. What’s not in a name? It symbolises the importance it carries for an individual and the information it incorporates about themselves. This practice of naming someone has its positive implications, aiding in communication and identification of a person but more than often, we witness the shift in those implications resulting in discrimination and inequality. To encapsulate the complex nature of these various ever-shifting perceptions of names, Amitabh Srivastava, a contemporary gestural performer through his upcoming performance — Shifting Syllables —  acknowledges and attempts to reflect on the societal repercussions, through various perspectives via body gestures. First created for American A-Liverary, a project by the American Center, Kolkata and Pickle Factory Dance Foundation, Kolkata, this interactive theatre show delves into the experiences of two Indian poets and two Asian-American poets, regarding their names, by utilising their poetry as the primary source of reference. On Listening to Your Teacher Take Attendance by Aimee Nezhukumatathil, An Introduction by Kamala Das, Mujhe Mere Naam se Pukaro by Alka Verma and Cardamom Vowels by Aruni Wijesinghe are the four poems that Amitabh explores conflicts of identity and culture through using the medium of minimal gestural work. We catch up with the artiste to find out everything that you need to know about his upcoming show in Bengaluru. 

Can you let us in on your upcoming show and what the audience can expect?
My solo performance, Shifting Syllables, attempts to find a connection between two very common aspects of an individual’s life: name and gaze. While the name and its resulting implications serve as the central concept of the work, I have chosen gaze as the primary medium to communicate the idea. The audience should come with the expectation of experiencing an interactive evening of dance, drama and dialogue aimed towards introspection and play.

Your muse behind the concept?
I have long been captivated by the wealth of information inherent in an individual’s full name and the diverse societal perceptions it can evoke. The stark contrast between the privileges and disadvantages associated with it has been deeply disheartening. My own first name was inspired by the legendary Amitabh Bachchan and I always found it challenging to step out of his shadow, especially during the initial stages of meeting someone and introducing myself. This served as the inspiration for my project centred around this very subject.

Why did you opt for this particular theme for the show?
The theme of the performance centres on the multifaceted implications of a name within a society. A name provides a sense of belonging. It becomes an integral part of one’s identity; shaping how they perceive themselves and how others see them. When this part of the identity, labelled by a name, undergoes direct or indirect scrutiny, the resulting repercussions could inflict everlasting emotional damage. Shifting Syllables is a performance that acknowledges and attempts to reflect on these repercussions, through various perspectives.

What can the audience take away from the show?
The audience can relate to the performance, as it aims to evoke a shared experience. The work seeks to illuminate the everyday microaggressions that individuals encounter — whether consciously or inadvertently — in diverse cultural and social settings due to their names and the preconceived notions held by others.

How does this show differ from other performing arts?
Each performing art and act is unique in its own way. This performance adopts an interdisciplinary approach that prioritises the central theme of the piece over its specific forms. It attempts to integrate poetry, dance movements, select theatrical elements and audience interaction to effectively communicate its message. The choreographic choices are minimal and motivated by daily life movements that allow the audience to relate to the performance and thus, establish an understandable dialogue. The additional layer of dialogue created by sound and multimedia artiste, Navya Sah also plays a role in bringing in the literature with a consistent, subtle and yet strong presence that binds all the elements together.

Could you let us in on your upcoming projects?
I envision creating work around performance-making that delves into research and literature while reflecting on our relationship with the environment. I am looking to work with movers who are open and willing to play and experiment with some offerings that I would like to propose with material play and intentionality.

INR 200. November 10, 6.30 pm onwards.  At Shoonya Center for Art and Somatic  Practices, Lal Bagh  Main Road.