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Say, What?: A Duet Celebrating Sounds Of Silence Through Movement

“Sound is a privilege,” says Avantika Bahl, the lady pushing the boundaries of communication with her latest production, Say,What?. Using movement with elements of sign language, this muted contemporary dance duet questions access, inclusion, and privilege synonymous with sound and language. “There is a social currency attached to sound and the performance prompts you to examine where it stands in your personal lives,” shares Bahl. From Mumbai to Delhi with love, Avantika Bahl is set to stage this ‘collision, conversation, and performance’ in #OurCity this weekend. Delving deep into the realm of communication, we get talking to this London Contemporary Dance School graduate about Say, What? and everything beyond 20-20,000Hz. 

Inspired by the body’s visceral nature, Bahl’s work has always pushed the envelope. Staging solo performances like 110048, M81, which explored the notion of finding a home within your body, she is furthering thought provoking contemporary dancing in India in her own idiosyncratic way. Explaining what prompted her most recent production, she shares, “Learning Indian sign language in 2015, I started developing an awareness of physicality in conversations that gets lost when talking. It led to a complete overhaul of my understanding of language and communication.” Reminiscing about her first encounter with this mode of communication, she adds, “Something as simple as understanding the difference between ‘bookish’ smart and smart in general with a flurry of gestures left me overwhelmed. There was no looking back after that moment.” Shining limelight on the similarity between signing and movement, she proclaims, “They are both embodied and rooted in self-expression, it’s what prompted me to create Say,What?.”  

Image:; Avantika Bahl

Aiming to showcase the labyrinthine personal journey evoked by two opposite perceptions of communication, Bahl partnered with Vishal Sarvaiya. “His relationship with sound is polar opposite to mine, and our negotiations to reach common ground helped shape the performance,” she says. With Saravaiya applauded for his work in championing sign language through film and dance, the duet evolved through abstraction. “We constantly explored how we experience sound and vibrations and what we associate them with. Sign language relies heavily on visuals, so we started out by drawing sound graphs, making sound notations, and responding to those,” shares Bahl talking about their journey.

Deconstructing the notion of deaf culture, a deaf identity, and what it means in juxtaposition to a hearing community, the production reinterprets the role of gesture. Using sign language as a point of entry to open negotiations between the bodies and space, Bahl shares that the journey is anything but linear, “We made six drafts before bringing it to a larger audience. Throughout the process, we had small reviews for members of the deaf and hearing community,” and iterations based on feedback culminated into Say,What?. The complexities of the relationship between the two bodies seamlessly flows through space using and abandoning codified language, “At times, signing is used as means to communicate and other times as abstraction in dance.” Inspired by personal experiences and memories, the notion of communication is pushed to locate conversation in different parts of the body throughout this 55-minute performance.

Striving to make art more accessible and inclusive, Say, What? celebrates sounds of silence. “It has made me more sensitive to how we compartmentalise the idea of ability and attempt at ‘normalising’ situations based on our individual experiences,” opines Bahl. An arch and a pirouette and she bids adieu, with hopes to prod each viewer to analyse their own relationship with sound and communication as she tours Delhi.

Upcoming performances: November 4 and 5, at OddBird Theatre & Foundation.


Featured Image Courtesy: Sanja Sivan