For me, creating work is often an outward presentation of a very personal journey. In reading Kalidasa’s Meghadhootha, I initially drew inspiration from many different translations, and literary commentaries. In reading the epic poem over and over again, there were certain verses that leapt out from the pages. These lines were coaxed by my own experiences to find comfortable and permanent places in my mind. When I came across these lines, I saw more than the words on the page. I saw myself, characters, dancers – all of us embodying Kalidasa’s imagery and sentiment. What came next was an irrevocable urge to use my medium, dance, to communicate my vision. And what came after that? Music, dance, choreography…a collaboration.
Good work is often a manifestation of vision, perspective, talent, hard work, and humility. I am so lucky to work with two of my best childhood friends, dancers who embody these attributes, Sophia Valath and Arun Mathai. The three of us are incredibly lucky to work with our good friend and mentor G.S. Rajan on this work; he embodies these attributes and more, bringing our work and our vision to a whole new level. The four of us scheduled 3 retreat-style, week long, work sessions through out the year so we would have the opportunity to develop, review, or revisit various facets of our work. During our first session in January, we began putting our months of vision and research into music and dance. I knew that we would have a good time working together, but I had no idea how significant the experience would be; our creative process was nothing short of addicting.
I was first humbled by the openness of each artist. Rajan anna patiently listened to what we envisioned for each line, in fact he spent hours doing this even before picking up his flute. He asked us to dance what we envisioned for the piece. We danced, he played….he played, we danced. We engaged in an organic creative process that began with a vision but evolved as each of us allowed ourselves to be inspired by the others. How could we not? We had this short, precious time to work together in one space, to put our vision on a canvas, and we did not waste a second. I watched as we began with one idea, which evolved into the next idea through live improvisation, which evolved into the next idea through listening to and watching each other, which finally evolved into something even more beautiful than what we started with. “Beautiful” just barely captures the sentiment of this meaningful process.
Sophia reflected on these moments in an e-mail after a few days of marathon work sessions. She said, “I loved how sometimes even though we were saying different things; we were all trying to get to the same place. I loved the moments when my head was down listening to Rajan anna [play a musical phrase] and I felt moved [by a particular note] and would look up at your faces and see the same expression of ‘yeah that was it…’ I loved how we’re staying true to some of the vision we started with but letting this creative processes have a mind of its own and are willing to listen to each other and be open to let the story go where it is organically going. I love that I’m doing this with the two of you….I think we work so well together and Rajan anna’s presence was amazing. I feel so blessed that he’s a part of this journey and really…unknowingly…help us take it together.”
From my friends, I’ve learned that creating good work, at the very least, starts with creating a good collaboration – working with good people you trust personally and artistically and who embody certain attributes that I think are essential for a productive partnership. I know we still have a long way to go in creating The Cloud Messenger, but I have so much faith in each artist and in what they do – I am so excited to see how the work will continue to evolve.