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Clothes slip off their bodies soon after the lights come on. Choreographer Mandeep Raikhy has moulded Queen Size into a compelling response to the contentious Section 377 of the Indian Penal Code by situating sexual congress between two male bodies in the mean of private life and the public domain. “Why aren’t we standing up for each other’s rights? Why are we fighting our own battles? Everyone has to be accountable for freedoms that aren’t accessible to some, especially those who can access these freedoms,” says Raikhy, asserting the core of his choreography that was performed at the Gati studio last week and is currently touring London.
Nishit Saran’s article, “Why My Bedroom Habits Are Your Business”, published in The Indian Express in 2000 serves as the premise upon which Raikhy constructs his argument. In the over two-hour-long non-linear narrative, the charpoy is the locus of performance, where Lalit Khatana and Parinay Mehra decode the carnal and emotional facets of intimacy. “The setting of the charpoy makes it a little ambiguous and doesn’t place the debate in urban cities where these conversations usually take place. It’s also symbolic of a certain institutionalisation. The panchayat sits on it. Men make the charpoy. It depicts patriarchy,” says Raikhy, of what could be considered the third protagonist of this work.
The process of conceiving Queen Size began with sifting through 108 sexual positions for gay men that Raikhy found on a website. As the dancers placed themselves in these positions, new configurations emerged. “But the way the dancers would apply themselves to the material or how they would begin to connect had everything to do with their experience. I can’t imagine working with another set of dancers because the work is a result of their experiences coupled with mine,” says Raikhy, Managing Director of Gati Dance Forum.
Raikhy’s praxis developed from a purely aesthetic to a political one with his last piece, The Male Ant Has Straight Antennae, that aimed to deconstruct and challenge notions of hegemonic masculinity. “Dance in India is largely apolitical. It doesn’t quite respond to social issues in the way that theatre does. I felt an urgency for dance to respond,” says Raikhy.
As dissent permeates his choreography, the accompanying sound by Yasuhiro Morinaga, characterised by a fluctuating pulse, complements but never dictates the movement of the dancers. The light design by Jonathan O’Heart, too, raises the piece’s emotional temperature as the outermost string of lights exposes the viewers — in a manner, implicating us all. “I find it very problematic, what the proscenium does to you. The dancer is visible but the viewer is in the dark. This leads to an unequal exchange. I wanted to shake that a bit so that the gaze of the audience is visible to the performer,” explains Raikhy.
As the charpoy creaked and rasped under Khatana and Mehra, the audience followed the dancers’ movements. While some watched hypnotised, the gaze of others dithered. Queen Size bared with delicate aplomb, not just the intimacy shared by two male bodies but also a society grappling with its insidious morality.