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Dance company explores AIDS crisis through movement and multimedia

Dakshina – Courtesy of Stephen Baranovics

Nora Coghlan, News Editor

This April the Artists@Grinnell residency program is hosting choreographer Daniel Singh. Singh holds an MFA in Dance from the University of Maryland, College Park and has been choreographing and performing in the Washington D.C. area for 14 years.

On Saturday, April 9, Singh’s Dakshina/Daniel Phoenix Singh Dance Company will perform “Mortal Tongues, Immortal Stories,” a multimedia dance performance at 7:30 p.m. in Roberts Theatre.

The inspiration for “Mortal Tongues, Immortal Stories” came from poets and writers who lost their lives to AIDS. To make the piece multimedia, Singh incorporates the work of these artists into the performance through the use of projections and spoken word.

“The performance is inspired by poems by writers who were lost to AIDS. So the spoken word aspect comes from that, but rather than just have the poems recited, we wanted to look at how we could make the words a part of the feel of the dance,” Singh said.

Dakshina - Courtesy of Stephen Baranovics
The company combines modern and Indian dance with image projections and spoken word. Contributed.

While company members perform modern dance choreography, the stage will light up with abstract projections of poems and the image of a deteriorating human cell infected with HIV. Two slam poets will also be reciting work during the show and dancers will interact with the projections to highlight the power and influence of the words.

“The stage is covered with those projections and we wanted to use the projections as metaphorical bridges or isolating rooms … because words can connect but words can also isolate,” Singh said.

Faulconer Gallery Director and Artists@Grinnell Committee Member Lesley Wright believes that the performance will combine aspects of art and activism.

“His performance, which connects to the LGBTQ community, humanizes the ongoing AIDS crisis through dance,” Wright wrote in an email to the S&B.

In addition to Saturday’s performance, Singh’s residency includes several other events that involve interaction with the Grinnell community. Throughout the week Singh taught master classes and technique classes for Grinnell students, held a panel talk on Friday with members of his company and is working on choreographing a piece for Grinnell students to be performed later this month.

Wright insisted that Singh’s willingness to host these events played a role in the decision to bring him to campus.

“We hope the artists can work with our students as well as perform or exhibit their work. One advantage of Daniel was his willingness to work with and involve students,” she wrote. “Daniel’s international influences and his involvement in social justice and gender issues added to the attractiveness of his candidacy as a visiting artist.”

Dakshina/Daniel Phoenix Singh Dance Company performs classical Indian dance, modern and fusion styles. Although the performance on Saturday will be primarily modern, Singh insisted that he tries to focus on interdisciplinary and multicultural approaches in his work.

“We try to work in interdisciplinary ways as much as possible. We … present classical Indian dance, modern dance and fusion in most of the shows. This is actually unusual in that we are doing mostly a modern dance show [in Grinnell],” he said. “So I think I am interested in looking at what happens when their intersections are crossed in poetry and dance, or media and dance, or cross-culturally … when you put different things together and [see] what sticks together and what’s a mess.”

The piece that Singh is choreographing for Grinnell students will draw from the idea of the circle prevalent in Asian mythology.

“[Circles are] an important theme in Asian mythology. Everything that rises comes down, the circle of life, all those kinds of things are very strongly built into mythology and in Indian stories, so I wanted to use the idea to create a dance,” he said.

Singh’s cross-cultural choreography, multimedia approach and social justice-minded performances are bound to connect with students and community members alike.

“It should be an exciting month,” Wright wrote.

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  • K

    K MuljiApr 8, 2016 at 4:37 am

    The 1st Indian dancer to explore the issue of AIDS was kathak artist Subodh Rathod back in 1991, in London UK. The piece was called ‘LIFE’