Preethi Athreya can take things apart with an intuitive precision – whether a dance form, an ideological stance or a piece of cake. In prying a gesture away from its established meaning, she is able to show that dance is not always the sum of its parts.
When she performs her own work, her years of training in Bharatanatyam provide an avenue for exploration. But in Across, Not Over (2014), she uses the same approach to deconstruct form in the body of Kathak dancer Vikram Iyengar.
Across, Not Over takes a knife to Kathak. Yet the Kathak aesthetic colours each movement, often in an absurd and unlikely way.
The dancer has his back to the audience for an eternity – a classical dance taboo. But his back becomes a canvas for the small, subtle movements of the torso that sometimes get lost in Kathak’s performative flamboyance. He rolls around in the mud, but puts on sneakers with the ritualistic tenderness usually reserved for ghunghroos.
There is an undercurrent of tragicomic pathos running through Preethi’s work. Watching it, you are left with the feeling of having arrived at an irrevocable, universal truth-even if you can’t quite articulate it.