Where is the Apple Joshinder: Shattering Gender Stereotypes.
Sculptor and jewelry designer Amin Gulgee loves to dance. One doesn't hurl this observation spuriously as one has witnessed him splaying his wiry and angular frame Crouching Tiger-style on myriad occasions both at private soirACopyrightes and at public live performance art shindigs. So it was no surprise that the cultural impresario would soon collaborate with a professional dancer on a dance-based art installation in this instance the Australia-returned choreographer/dancer Joshinder Chaggar.
I had never met Joshinder before and we established contact via text and online messaging. Luckily before we met I Googled her and found out that she was a woman having assumed beforehand that she was a man!" reminisces Gulgee. Before the meeting I had no intention of working on a dance performance work but because of the chemistry we had during the meeting this led to me working on this project. The process took five months and it was absolutely fantastic. It was perhaps one of the most challenging things I have ever done. It began with a very simple idea that I wanted the performance to take place within my installation "Char-Bagh" and that it should be in three parts. It slowly developed after that creating its own organic energy. The performers were suggested by Joshinder and I met with them. At that point I hardly knew Joshinder or the other three but our first meeting was great and I felt their energy.
After that we had a rehearsal in which I tried to understand the way the three of them naturally move and it seemed to make sense to me. Only Joshinder has a dance background while the other three are actors. When I work with movement my aim is always to work with the way people naturally move. Each person has a signature of movement and I always try to exploit and use that."
Likewise the choreography was also an organic process involving the active participation of all four of the performers.
Again I tried to work with their own movements and use their personal stories" Gulgee explains. All four of us explored together what we could and could not do physically and I tried to push them in challenging directions. However the final decision was mine but I wanted it to make sense to the others as well."
The ensuing result is the experimental gender-buoyed dance performance treatise. Where is the Apple Joshinder' subconsciously addling the onus on the woman (or not) as Joshinder' is gender- ambiguous - presented at Karachi's Arts Council for one night only in late February.
Produced by Pomme Gohar of Phenomena and conceptualized and directed by Gulgee with his Persian inspired Char Bagh (quadrilateral garden) installation as the ornate Eden-like setting for answering age old questions of stringent gender dictates the art-meets-dance-meets-societal inquiry was definitely signature Gulgee in its pushing the boundaries of both theater performance and social mores but bordering slightly on a pretentious and shock-value otherworldliness.
Gulgee has a pertinent reason for the setting and for the significance of the title.
The Char Bagh is a Persian grid brought to South Asia by the Mughal." Gulgee explains. The Char Bagh has been called the Paradise Garden and the question remains: Does the apple even exist"
The somewhat alienating and pessimistic theater note enjoined that there's no friendship possible between men and women' which in and of itself is both an ambitiously expansive and challenging theme to execute in an hour and some minutes. Gulgee promised to create something that is so vast that the physical space that contains it became almost limiting. What was more novel perceptibly portrayed and even more interesting was the fluidity of gender; the notion as Gulgee posited in his prologue (where his husky voice sounded eerily like his late father the great Gulgee Elder) that there is a man in every woman and a woman in every man."
The performance featured Joshinder Chaggar Sunil Shankar Erum Bashir and Vajdaan Shah with each character relentlessly and fluidly transmogrifying inhabiting in their personae both the masculine and the feminine with Kashif Hussain and Amaad Tahir presenting both stolidly subtle performances in supporting roles and Sikander Mufti and Hamid Rahim (DynoMan) proffering live music.
The performance was demarcated into three segments: the first was titled Inside the Char Bagh a period of innocence and self-discovery; the second Outside the Char Bagh' where the realization of gender distinctions sets in; and the third Becoming the Chaar Bagh' where genders are set in stone leading to an almost bewildered disillusionment.
The narrative in the first two acts revolves outside the doorsill of Eden where both good and evil prevail. Chaggar's Eve falls in love in the first act; her tormented ardor replete with primal screams mirrored both through a reflective gabled piece of glass on the stage (which could also represent the slippery and fluid nature of sexuality and one's struggles with it) with creatures intermittently emerging from behind it and in Shankar's performance as the reflective object of desire. Once they see' one another they desist from gazing at their own reflections and oblivious to male/female distinctions Chaggar's character defines itself by an unbridled passion the sort that may mete out misery if deceived. Chaggar's and Shankar's mocking laughs may perhaps be construed as making fun of the foibles of one another (man and woman) or more poignantly the idiocy of gender stereotypes.
(Vajdaan) Shah's almost comical Neanderthal bellowing of Jabal' which in Arabic means mountain could alternately mean that he feels he is as tall and strong as a mountain or conversely that he has to trek peaks to overcome his own limited view of the vagaries of Life.
The lyrics of long-braided (Erum) Bashir's mesmerizing Punjabi Folk song resonated with notions of the power of the earth and its fertility. She represented the bond her gender has to growth fecundity and to Mother Earth.
Amaad Tahir in all his poised feminine glory and Sikander Mufti's all-white and swift romantic interlude represented the arcane rituals extant in male-female relationships which are at best fleeting.
Shankar's homoerotic display of affection for Vajdaan Shah which made many in the audience cringe or at least feel disquieted was the catalyst for the second act Outside the Char Bagh. Chaggar's growing sense of self is buoyed by her passion and she uses Bashir's character to physically manifest her agony on Shankar. What was indubitably arresting in this sequence was the easy sexual chemistry and affection even if it was only testing-the-waters between the male dancers and the inscrutable anger even if it was angst-transference between the two female dancers a comment perhaps on the notion that women are not nurturing enough of one another and often become adversarial especially when feuding over men.
We witness glints of self destruction setting in as the once intersexual quartet become self-aware almost shocked by the vision of their corporeal selves with the chief protagonists having acquired well-demarcated gender roles by the third and final act Becoming the Char Bagh" where Eden is literally shattered with the 77 illusory golden leaves in the metallic forest being flayed to the ground; illusions of being One" are dispelled; sexual stereotypes and barriers broken and where both men and women each fall from grace having discovered the notion of the forbidden" and of right" and wrong"
Did the apple ever exist Was the seeking out for the forbidden fruit necessary Perhaps the query of the title didn't need to be answered as the quartet wander off displaced and bewildered.
Where is the Apple Joshinder is Gulgee's bildungsroman an evolutionary coming-of-age spiritual treatise marking the artist's ever-flourishing creative growth. We hope to see this trajectory continue fruitfully.