Raghav and the Damned Butterflies

Image: Gregory Lorenzutti

Raghav and the Damned Butterflies.

The second instalment of Dance Circle was designed to celebrate and illuminate the recent season of Tukre’, Raghav Handa’s first full-length solo work.

This was going to be a shoo-in. I have known Raghav for over 15 years, approximately 11 of those as teacher, choreographer and later collaborator, working alongside his enormous creative capacity coupled with a dedication almost parallel to none.

It is rumoured (and an ugly one at that), that I am not exactly the easiest person to work with. I am quite partial to the common choreographer/director’s mantra which is, “just one more time” coupled with, “once more and I think we’ll have it” inevitably followed by “one last time” performed three more times, before we are officially done. Maybe.

Did I mention the dedication? Well, not enough. You see, once I secretly spied Raghav, (armed with a camera to capture it all unfold) berating himself over a minor physical error. He would finish the sequence, shake his head while simultaneously sighing and exclaiming “hideous” only to begin again. This was captured at least six times before I intervened. Sadly, as the lone motivated man, he didn’t garner much attention from me, instead my attention was diverted by the women (usually around four) that he would partner, consecutively and individually. For a man slight of build, he developed the skills to throw, manipulate, caress and grapple with consummate ease.

He has been an intrinsic part of every creative team I’ve assembled for each major group work I have made, including Long Grass, which premiered at this year’s Sydney Festival (sadly without him in it). We grew up together, along with my other core collaborator Henrietta Baird, and a small group of talents (you know who you are). I learned how to become a director/choreographer, while they each in turn began to develop their own choreographic ideas and identities.

So, it was with an alien sense of maternal pride that I planned this event.

I pressed dismiss on the alarm I’d set for the crack o’ dawn to teach this old duck some new tricks in preparation. Armed with roughly modified squares of A4 paper, cut with the a pair of scalloped nail scissors purloined from a neglected manicure set, gathering mould and dust on an abandoned shelf in the bathroom, I began the art of origami; consisting of an elusive series of folds designed to confuse, frustrate and elicit wonder upon completion. At least 15 trials under my belt and I felt confident to pass on my new found skills.

I didn’t want to just talk about the legacy of repetitive gesture lying hidden beneath the exterior of the expert artisan. I wanted the audience armed with a practical knowledge. They were to create fragile paper butterflies of their own making and then I was going to deviously tease a choreographic response from this task.

I was so engrossed in the task of my own making, that when Raghav appeared, I barely made eye contact and grunted approval in response to his more than generous answering. He revealed Kathak training as a young child, the gender orientation of some of his movement vocabulary, its’ mythological foundations and the honour in acknowledgement of his part in a familial legacy shared by a nation.

Did you know that 80% of the world’s gemstones are cut in India? Yep. (Thanks to watching three hours of documentary footage I could almost conduct a lecture on the intricacies of gemstone production. Almost. Very addictive viewing.)

His work consists of an outward manifestation of the interior intellectual and the physical gestural application of both the goldsmith and diamond cutters craft; from the stoking of a flame with a long metallic straw to mould molten liquid, to the smattering of water with gentle moist fingertips, to keep the grinder lubricated in order to slice through hard rough rock.

I was captivated by a seven time circular walk in accompaniment to a projected vision of his mother donning a sari, executed with a sombre sense of finality, Raghav enacted a Hindi marriage rite denied him because of his sexual orientation. This was a brave and quietly controversial act. I can appreciate the meditation and forethought involved before including this simple sequence. It is a declaration of desire and a hope for change. Cultural statements such as these are to be appreciated because it is with very sophisticated consideration of the possible consequences that they are carried out.

It was a wonder to me, this creation: a rare event. Raghav is a very quiet and humble man; enigmatic. I learned more about him in this performance than I did over the past 15 years. I guess actions do speak louder than words.

Congrats Rugs.

– by Vicki Van Hout