i am not here

by The Lost Post Initiative 
M1 Singapore Fringe Festival 2021: Quiet Riot!
(organised and curated by TNS)
SISTIC Live, Singapore

This dance-theatre production, presented by Indian company The Lost Post Initiative as part of the M1 Singapore Fringe Festival 2021, is intriguingly described as an eight-step guide on how to censor women’s writing. 

Directed by Deepika Arvind and featuring performers Ronita Mookerji and Sharanya Ramprakash, it is an energetic, vivacious and mesmerizing event. Two women face in other in a boxing ring, physically reined in that confined space. Through a variety of scenes, each marked by the chime of a boxing bell, we witness ways in which women and their words are subjugated. 

We start with the story of Judith, the talented but ignored sister of Shakespeare, who is denied an education and ultimately commits suicide. A couple plays out a wordless domestic routine where the woman’s place is squarely at home: cooking, cleaning and pleasing her husband. A guru commands a female devotee to behave exactly as he dictates, literally making her dancing to his tunes no matter how ludicrous it may seem. A female writer reads out a scathing review about her poetry book and we see her self-worth being slowly torn to shreds. An old man tries to control his hyperactive female dog by resorting to physical violence, a painful nod to domestic violence against women. 

Photo Credit: Aparna Nori

Arvind modulates the action smoothly between word and movement and manages to appeal to both lovers of dance and theatre. The production is also buffeted by strong performances. Mookerji is a gifted dancer who expresses the might and plight or women with sensitivity and grace. She is nicely complemented by Ramprakash who excels in dramatic monologues and moments of comedy.

It's a pity that due to the pandemic, the performance is only available as an online recording. The filmed version is unfortunately not optimised for online viewing, with the light being too washed out and fairly static camera angles that prevent us from fully appreciating the fluidity of the movement. Unlike the live theatre audience seated in the round, home audiences fail to truly engage with the material by virtue of not being implicated into the action and being one step removed from the physical confrontation unfolding before us.

i am not here gives us a vivid sense of the fight that women have to endure every single day in a bid to assert their identity and make their voice heard. The performance ends with the boxing ring strewn with papers, the women scrambling to put them together in a vain bid to make meaning and reclaim some sense of identity in this maddening swirl of words.

It's a powerful and moving work that is potent in its physicality. Yet, one cannot help but feel that it does not offer audiences anything groundbreaking; these are well-worn themes that have been bandied around for a long time. 

I discuss this production in more detail in the Arts Equator theatre podcast, together with writer, editor and producer Kathy Rowland and theatre educator Matthew Lyon.

The Crystalwords score: 3/5


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