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
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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.

20 Sept ‘23 | Shifting Syllables

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.

Daminee Basu

21 December ‘23 | Silence, Please

Silence. Silencing. Politics of silence. Chosen silence. Fear of silence. Selective silence. Rituals of silence. Actions of silence. Active silence. Historical silence. Silent lover. Eternal silence. Communicative silence. Radio silence. Silent method. Silence of the lambs. The silent treatment. Culture of silencing. Political silence. The silencer. Silent training. Scream of silence. The economy of silence. Silent attack. Color of silence. Temple of silence. Ethnic silencing. Silent era. Silent oppressor. Silent mode. Golden silence. Silent breeze. Sudden silence. Silent alphabet. Conscious silence. silent existence. Silent aggression. Meditative silence. Dead silence. Silent worker. Silent and peaceful. Religious silence. Industry of Silence. Silent privilege. Silence speaking thousand words. Optional silence. Consensual silence. Age of silence. observing silence. Noise of silence. The violence of silence.

And which one is your favourite?

This edition of ‘American A-Liverary is in collaboration with the British Council, Kolkata. It features texts by both American and British writers: Bob Dylan (Masters of War) and Warsan Shire (from War) respectively. The performance is followed by a converstation with dancer-choreographer and psychoanalyst Jhuma Basak.

23 January ’24 | Emingoyak: that which has been given to us

We are all bound by a covenant of reciprocity: plant breath for animal breath, winter and summer, predator and prey, grass and fire, night and day, living and dying. Water knows this, clouds know this. Soil and rocks know they are dancing in a continuous giveaway of making, unmaking, and making again the earth…In the dance of the giveaway, remember that the earth is a gift that we must pass on, just as it came to us. When we forget, the dances we’ll need will be for mourning. For the passing of polar bears, the silence of cranes, for the death of rivers and the memory of snow.” Robin Wall Kimmerer is a Potawatomi Botanist and author who enriches the objectivity of scientific knowledge with ancient wisdom of indigenous people through Braiding Sweetgrass.

This performance is an ongoing personal exploration of the reciprocal relationships between the body and the ecological environment evoked by the text. As evolution of the spine pulled us up from the ground, we embodied this separation leading to a relentless materialist culture, detaching us from the rest of Creation towards a deep “species loneliness”. This piece attempts to understand the impact of symbolic interactionism on the world’s collective “homelessness” and find a path homeward.

In a world where land is increasingly looked at as natural resource, private property, capital and a commodity to buy and sell, can we again learn to walk as if each step is a greeting to Mother Earth? What happens when we truly become native to a place, when we finally make a home with both feet on the shore and see the land as emingoyak? 

“Whatever our gift, we are called to give it and to dance for the renewal of the world. In return for the privilege of breath.”

The performance will be followed by a discussion with  Dr. Shantanu Majee, Assistant Professor of English at Techno University.

23 February ‘24 | Sky is where I remain

This performance attempts to explore the concept of freedom through the interpretation of two poems, Khalil Gibran’s On Freedom and Meera Dasgupta’s Remembrance. These poems offer unique perspectives on overcoming adversity and self-realization. In Gibran’s poem, freedom is depicted as a state of mind and spirit that transcends physical limitations. Whereas, Dasgupta’s poem portrays freedom as the resilience to endure and rise above oppression, echoing Maya Angelou’s Still I Rise. Through dance, the performer embodies the themes of these poems and delves into the complexities of personal liberation and empowerment.

The performance will be followed by a discussion with Debaroti Chaakraborty, Assistant Professor at the Department of Performing Arts, Presidency University.