Out of Water

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San Francisco, California, June 2013

Performed in performance pieces Out of Water (devised and conceptualized by artists Helen Paris and Caroline Wright)

Reflections

As we all stood there at the beach behind a rope that divided us from our shadows watching the sun rise and the waves crash against the shore, I tried to memorize the moment so that I could recall it later when it is no more. I tried hard to sniff the air as much as I could to remember the smell of sand and salty water, I looked as far as possible out into the horizon to remember how the sky meets the sea, and I dug my feet deep into the sands, sometimes wiggling my toes, to feel the sand pass through the gaps of my fingers. Everything felt like shifting time and space, shifting relations of proximity; everything seemed very near yet quite far – the waves ahead of us were calling me, yet I was bound by my performance to stay in place; I felt like I was part of this community of performers and people I could trust and love and perhaps support, and I wanted to hug each and every one of us, yet we were standing almost at an arm’s distance from each other; I had an intense urge to merge myself with my shadow by laying myself down on the beach, fitting myself in my shadow’s mould, yet I wonder where my shadow would’ve travelled to if I did so.

The recorded sound of waves that came out of my iPhone overlapped and fought against the ‘natural’ sound of waves; yet it remained so markedly different. All of us – performers and audience members – were hearing the same soundtrack, and yet perhaps not the exact same. I was curious. Did we really all turn on the ‘play’ button exactly at the same moment? Did we all see the signal at the same time? It was most likely that the digitization of the sound made it possible for us all to be bonded by the same piece of soundtrack we were hearing, but we were probably not hearing that at the same time. We were together yet separate, unified and individualized at the same time.

From the corner of my eyes, I could see the gradually approaching audience members. They were all gathered together at a distance. I was so tempted to see them. Who are they? Are they people I know? If I don’t know them, will I be comfortable approaching them and guiding them towards the sea to throw salt into the sea with me? As I turned and walked towards them, I saw them becoming bigger and clearer. I walked towards a couple and almost interrupted their whispery conversation to hold their hands. I was in the middle, guiding them towards the sea. Suddenly, I couldn’t see them anymore, but felt their hands pressed against my grainy sand-clad palms. I was almost relieved that I don’t have to look at them, as I’m nervous to be looked at. I offered them salt from my pocket. They followed my lead and threw salt back into the sea, I led them to join the V that had been forming. I almost felt a sense of loss, as I left them there and walked away to join the choir of singers. In that ritual of holding hands, and throwing salt together, it seemed like we had already formed a bond. I felt like I owe it to them to remain by their side.

As we walked together in our already formed Vs, following the audience members this time, I felt like those sand particles and weeds that are left behind on the shore, even as the water and waves retreat into the sea. They were leaving us to go back where they came from. But they kept looking back, sometimes waving, sometimes stopping to take pictures, and sometimes just stopping and watching us freeze in our places. Did we desert them, or were we deserted? Were they one of us, or were we a part of them? When did we stop becoming ‘us’ and ‘them’? I waited as they went farther and farther, became smaller and smaller till they disappeared completely out of sight.

 

Welcome

Sukanya Thumbnail I received my doctoral degree in Theater and Performance Studies at Stanford in June 2016. My dissertation, completed under the guidance of Dr. Jisha Menon, was awarded the Charles R. Lyons Memorial Prize for Outstanding Dissertation. My research project was supported by the Graduate Research Opportunities Award in Stanford, which facilitated my fieldwork in India and Bangladesh during the summer of 2013 and 2014; and the Wisch Fellowship by the Center for South Asia, Stanford University, for my work in South Asian theater and performance studies. I identify as an artist-scholar, and my training and specialization are in the area of oral history; postcolonial and ethnic studies (with a focus on South Asian performance studies); ethnomusicology; dramatic literature; transcultural theater and performance; experimental devised performances; and community-based performance-making.

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It would be wonderful to hear back from you, and you can always reach me via email.

Sukanya C.