A plea from the vertically challenged: if you’re tall or have a large torso, do not go for a cultural program only to canoodle with your girlfriend. Not that I have anything against tall men canoodling but the fact is, it’s just insensitive to the short person who may be sitting behind you because now they have to play virtual dodgeball with the silhouette of your romantic head in order to see what’s happening on stage. Of course, considering what was happening on stage, I can’t blame Mr. Tall for coochie-cooing with his beloved. When faced with something like Mayakkam-Oxymore, you need something that will make it worth your while to not walk out of the theatre.
Mayakkam-Oxymore is a dance-music-visual art programme that has been doing the rounds in India as part of the Bonjour India festival organised by the French. It’s been organised by a French group called Urbn Buzz. Urbn Buzz connected danseuse Sangeeta Isvaran with computer musician Cyrille Brissot and graffiti artist Marko-93 together. The woman who introduced Mayakkam-Oxymore last night told us the show was “a baby” because it had been put together very recently and that it employed new technology that was “challenging”. It certainly did have cool new technology but the challenge was to figure out what the hell was going on with the old-fashioned dancing.
Mayakkam-Oxymore has its moments. Some of Brissot’s music is pleasing and Marko-93’s light graffiti is good fun to see initially. It makes for some fantastic images, as is obvious from the picture I’ve nicked from his photostream. But the light tricks quickly feel repetitive and when Brissot, possibly hoping for gravitas with his grim expression, began to shred paper and scrunch a plastic bag to create music, he did Cacophonix proud. At that point I was rather glad Mr. Tall was cuddling up to his girlfriend/ wife because it meant I didn’t have to see Brissot ripping paper with the grandiose gestures of a cymbal player in an orchestra. I still had to hear the pointless noise though and Mr. Tall’s head wasn’t big enough to block the sight of the abysmal dancing that accompanied this sound and light show.
Mayakkam-Oxymore is supposed to mean “the enchanted oxymoron” since “mayakkam” means enchanted in Tamil and “oxymore” is oxymoron in French. Isvaran claims to have mastered bharatnatyam, kuchipudi and a bunch of other dance forms. She also claims to tell a story of how the identity of eunuchs are fractured through Mayakkam-Oxymore. To do so, she goes on stage with the eunuch dancer Lakshya, a girl named Thilagavathi Palani (she’s supposedly 18 but looks about 12) and a Caucasian woman whose name I don’t know. Marko-93 appears from time to time, shrouded in black and waving a light sabre as though he’s come for a Star Wars-themed party. The light sabre and another little nifty laser-y gadget create light graffiti on the screen behind the dancers. Brissot sits in a corner, pressing buttons, plucking out every musical possibility of a violin and shredding paper. The 60 minutes of Mayakkam-Oxymore were supposed to look at the dissonance between actual identities and those that transgendered people claim for themselves. It was also supposed to explore the idea of the perfect woman and social stigmas surrounding ambivalent gender identities. What I saw was some bizarre, abstract exotica that was made up of ridiculous costumes, naïve choreography and repetitive gimmicks. There were a few lovely moments, like a fragment in one of Palani’s solo dances to some bouncy music that sounded like a track from Club Hits, Vol. 5. Marko-93’s light graffiti to introduce Lakshya was beautiful. But the good moments were momentary and the rest of Mayakkam-Oxymore was tiresome. Like Isvaran’s first costume, which looked like her sari had come undone and was trailing underfoot. Or the hideously unsubtle fashion show that Lakshya and Palani enact using clothes that look like they’ve been nicked from the discarded wardrobe of “Disco Dancer” (presumably to demonstrate Lakshya’s identification with the feminine and Palani’s desire to be masculine). Tour de pointlessness: Isvaran beating her bosom and her belly while stomping her foot. Why? Who can tell? In order to give the dancers time to change, Brissot went behind the projection screen and scraped his fingernails against it. I don’t know which is more upsetting, that the chaps at Guantanamo Bay could use a recording of this to seriously discombobulate inmates (move over Yoko Ono) or that Brissot and Isvaran thought an Indian audience would be so charmed by screeching plastic that they wouldn’t notice that this part of the show serves no purpose other than abusing eardrums. Then again, given most of the show was pointless, why single out poor Brissot’s efforts at performance art? Especially since there was the particularly meaningless ending sequence during which Isvaran made mad eyes at the audience while an impassive white woman did her best imitation of a many-armed Hindoo goddess, aided by by Marko-93’s neon whooshies.
There are only two questions that I’m left with after Mayakkam-Oxymore. One: Does being transgendered make it acceptable for one to take to a professional stage and dance badly? Isvaran’s choreography was unimpressive and the dancers looked painfully amateur. When all the lights came on and one could see the dancers properly, it was as though we were watching street performers who hadn’t rehearsed. Two: How are any stereotypes being attacked by showing transgendered performers doing vaguely silly dance routines? It’s quite obvious that Mayakkam-Oxymoron had no intention of tackling any questions concerning transgendered identity. If it did, then Mayakkam-Oxymoron wouldn’t hide behind abstractions. Isvaran doesn’t tell a single story properly in her 60 minutes. She avoids conclusions and hides behind face paint, yoga postures, belly-slapping and the excuse that there have been few occasions to rehearse this piece. Frankly, if you didn’t think you had enough rehearsal time, then you shouldn’t have agreed to put it up. The most disturbing facet of the show is that Isvaran actually serves to reiterate well-entrenched notions, like eunuchs basically just dance around and like to dress up as women. Sexuality sells and Isvaran was clearly eager to ride on this wave of interest, but without getting wet. So there are no questions and no insights, only stereotypes and ineptitude. But just because Isvaran got selected by foreigners for a collaboration AND she’s included a transgendered person in the show – How heroic! Who cares if this person is a good dancer so long as she is a hijra? – we must all gush profusely. And I’m going to shut up now because honestly, Mayakkam-Oxymore isn’t worth 1106 words.