Folks who follow the theatre scene in Mumbai will know that a performance by Shapeshift Collective will involve storytelling by way of movement and a moody set-up. For instance, their latest show, Do You Want Me To Stay For Anything In Particular? has a dancer performing to music by experimental Japanese musician Mistuaki Matsumoto on a string instrument of his own design. The idea of the performance is the ambiguous thesis that “quiet and unseen happenings might be the ones that last”. Choreographer Sujay Saple, 33, who founded Shapeshift in 2012, tells us about the show, collaborating with Matusmoto and his preferred form of storytelling.
Tell us about the performance. What’s it about?
Do You Want Me To Stay For Anything In Particular is a concert by a sound artist from Japan, Matsuki Matsumoto. It’s very interesting because he’s a very peculiar sound artist who has crafted his own instrument. Part of it is from a cello, part of it is from a sitar, part of it is from a Japanese biwa. He plays it with a bow and it’s also electronically attached. For the last couple of productions, I’ve gotten very interested in sound. I think my interest as a choreographer has also become pure movement and abstraction. In recent times, I’ve become interested in just working instead of waiting for inspiration. And as you work, the work reveals to you what is going on in your mind and heart. It’s really exciting for me to work with really interesting collaborators who share a similar aesthetic wavelength, and that’s how this project came about.
This work has one dancer and one musician, and the audience sits on all sides so it’s intimate. We really wanted to subvert the notion of a concert. We want the musician to become more than someone you just hear; he also becomes someone you watch closely. Usually, in a collaboration between a musician and a dancer, the dancer becomes the centrepiece and we wanted to subvert that. What if the musician becomes the dancer, and not merely someone creating sound but also someone who is moving? And what if the dancer is in that sense, more in the shadows or the darkness and comes in and out? And that just makes you experience it in completely a different way. Experientially (sic) what it does is makes us notice what we’ve lost, the absences, the pauses, the gaps. And that’s what makes us think about what gets left behind.
How did you come to collaborate with Mitsuaki Matsumoto and Mallika Singh?
I’ve worked with both of them in the past on previous productions. Mallika and I have worked in 2018 on a piece called This Is All There Is When There Is All This and she also joined the team of Lullaby, Stranger (2018). Mitsuaki and I have worked twice in 2017 on international collaborative projects. We met, got to know each other, understood that we shared certain interests in abstract art-making processes and had a common aesthetic wavelength.
Your performances combine theatre, dance and music. How is this vehicle of storytelling challenging for you as an artist and for the audience?
From the very beginning, the linear narrative has never been super interesting for me. And when we say story, we’ve been conditioned to imagine it in a particular way. A story can be of many kinds. It needn’t necessarily have words, it can also just be particular elements arranged in a particular way which allows for an imaginative experience. If you take a piece of music without any words, that has a story too. For me, it’s always about this is the zone, let’s explore it. We find our collaborators, go on the floor, and like a laboratory, we try it out, we devise it, we explore things and nothing is pre-decided. The process really reveals how things cook and take shape. And then, of course, we structure it to get the effect we want. Every person in the audience has their own sensorial (sic) experience.
What do you hope audiences will take away from the show?
For one, a unique experience. Hopefully, a little re-examination of what one would consider a performative and musical experience. For me, it would be very lovely if they’ve had a journey with us the way the performers have had a journey of their own. In this case, if they can connect to their own sense of loss, uncertainty, erasure, absence, or being stuck in between. If you’ve ever lost anyone or anything, and if you’ve been dealing with that and can strongly relate to, then I think they will strongly connect to this show. And I think that most good pieces we watch are about the human experiences – love, longing and loss.