American A-Liverary

American A-Liverary is a series of literature and performance  events. Curated by Vikram Iyengar in partnership with the American Center Library, Kolkata, and implemented with the Pickle Factory Dance Foundation, the series invites performing artists to engage with new and diverse voices in American literature to create bridges between words and movement, and initiate discussions on values of diversity, inclusion and access.

What is it
about ? 25410

Libraries are storehouses of imagination, knowledge, wonder, and emotional power. They house and protect every facet of experience across time, space, and cultures, and offer a safe place for very different ideas and perspectives to exist together. Often, though, libraries and reading  can come across as silent, strict, solitary and disciplined spaces with very little room for play – only the serious pursuit of learning happens here!

American A-Liverary intends to disrupt this notion and definition of seriousness with serious play. We invite multidisciplinary performance artists from Calcutta and elsewhere to create a performance intervention in response to writing coming out of America that reflects the complexity and diversity of that country; something that will resonate with the complexity and diversity we find in India, along with the associated pleasures and perils. Each performance is an opportunity to approach and reflect on various themes that may connect India and the United States in similar and dissimilar ways. Each performance is followed by a facilitated conversation between the artist and audience.

6 Dec ‘22 | When We Come to it

Always unpredictable, the magnificent Maya Angelou unabashedly speaks of women’s side of the story dripped in feminist satire to contradict the white masculine centric social gaze. Angelou reassures me to be myself, be the best, wicked version of female person that I can be. Ironically, though it was supposed to be easy, our familiarity and baggage of conforming to the heteronormative society makes us doubt ourselves.

When We Come to It is a journey with a few poems of Maya Angelou that five people take to define themselves using her words as swords to unleash their ‘self’, otherwise tamed by the social normative. The journey is full of complex questions. What defines a ‘woman’? How are the bodies tamed to be or not to be ‘women’? Is there a room in between Angelou’s words to include those who are questioning?  This work in progress is a  process where Angelou’s words and our bodies collide to explore certain shared concerns about women, identity and desires.

The performance was followed by a conversation between dancer and arts managed Paramita Saha, Titas Dutta and the whole cast.

5 Feb ‘23 | was still here once

Rummaging through the shambles of memories,
Exhaustive conversations with the ghosts of wars and migration.
A history that refuses to be forgotten,
like a home that refuses to be demolished. 
Like an excavator, digging out the dead into our lives 
Asking them to relive and read our letters 

The performance attempts to travel through the landscape of emotions mapped out in Ocean Vuong’s novel On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous. The artist uses her own embodied experience as an intersectional identity as a starting point of the investigation. 
Post her short presentation, Aseng Borang was be in conversation with Dr Kaustav Bakshi, Associate Professor at the Department of English, Jadavpur University.

6 April ‘23 | Music, Movement & Poetry – In C

How do we (re)find languages, communities and collective identities?
an evening of music, movement and poetry
Dancer Joshua Sailo and theatre-maker Shuktara Lal read and discussed two poems No One Knows the Way to Heaven by Ocean Vuong and Singing Everything by Joy Harjo.
The readings lead into the workshop showing of In C, where the themes of the poems mirror the concerns of the music and movement (music by American composer Terry Riley, choreography by Berlin-based Sasha Waltz and Guests). Joshua had worked with ten dancers from across India to pass on this piece as part of the In C project.

24 July ‘23 | And yet there is Hope

The piece was inspired by the lines:

The heart is a fist.
It pockets prayer or holds rage.
from the poem Break my Heart by Joy Harjo.

However, it uses, for its progress, the poem Direction to You by the same poet. It is not a literal interpretation or visualisation of the poem. It uses the four words hope, life, beauty, and solitude from the stanzas numbered 1, 2, 3, and 4, respectively, from the poem to build these images.

The choreography attempts to explore and represent these ideas mainly through the classical form of Bharatanatyam, allowing the performer to explore other movement patterns. The final direction received from the poet appears to be such as to arrive at a place where one can be found, understood, seen, and felt—a throbbing human self with memories, with a heart that ‘pockets prayer and holds rage’.

The performance is followed by a discussion between Puja Chatterjee and writer, singer & theatre maker Baisali Chatterjee Dutt.

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 due to the cultural differences, the resulting repercussions, no matter how small it seems at the moment, can inflict everlasting emotional damage.

Shifting Syllables is a performance that acknowledges and attempts to reflect on these shifting and persistent repercussions, through various perspectives. It uses the concept of a name as a medium to understand the reality of a society we live in where one person’s privileges transform into another’s disadvantages. It attempts to initiate a dialogue about how to minimise our differences by putting efforts to become a part of other cultures around us, starting with something as fundamental as learning someone’s name in its purest form, towards becoming an inclusive society.

This performance delves into the experiences of three Asian-American poets, utilising their poetry as the primary source of reference. 
On listening to your teacher take attendance’ by Aimee Nezhukumatathil,
by Teresa Mei Chuc
Cardamom Vowels‘ by Aruni Wijesinghe.

The performance will be followed by a discussion with poet, editor and translator Anjum Katyal.

Pickle Factory Dance Foundation, Calcutta is a not-for-profit
company registered under Section 8 of The Companies Act, 2013.
The company was incorporated on 12 July 2017.

© All images and text are copyright of Pickle Factory except where otherwise specified.