Fearless: In The Eye Of The Storm
They say you really get to know a person when you travel with them. A testimony I believe reveals the core philosophies of how an individual perceives the world and their role in it.
Dancer/choreographer Avril Stormy Unger is someone with whom I have swum across treacherous waterfall rivers, been stranded in forest thundershowers – and in every situation she’s been Fearless. Even in those few moments where fear of the unknown threatened to stop her from diving headfirst into a new experience – she would, employing the same elegance, grace and strength that characterizes her unique dance style – conquer that fear and dive into the deep end of the waterfall, swimming across to the other shore.
Her Fearless campaign addresses the abuse and fear that many women experience in contemporary Indian society, depicted through a mesmerising combination of movement art by her dance troupe The Storm Factory, visuals by Vandana Menon and music by reputed musician/composer Arjun Chandran. The result is a strikingly beautiful, send-shivers-down-your-spine blend of various art forms seamlessly and magically merging into one performance. The Storm Factory has also recently launched Unravel — monthly nights curated by The Storm Factory at The Humming Tree, dedicated to movement-based performance arts.
I chatted more with Avril about the roots of these inspiring movements that hold within them the power to take the country by storm.
Nirupama: What was it that inspired you to launch the Fearless campaign?
Avril: Well in June 2011 I joined a college of dance to study the Classical forms. During this time I was expected to wear a bindi during class hours. I noticed something really different about the way the world was treating me while I wore a Bindi. Everything around me changed. People were nicer, I got work easily, the eve teasing reduced, the bikers following me reduced, cops didn’t stop me. This whole thing made me think of the day-to-day lives of women living in our city and the extreme contrast that exists! That is what started the thought process of what has now become Fearless. In 2012 I started dancing with this beautiful dancer and choreographer named Sowmya Jaganmurthy. She found me a performance in Shimoga, and I put the whole concept together and performed it for the first time there. This was a time when all of us were feeling helpless and unsafe about what was happening in our country. Inspired by my real life experiences, of those involved in the performance and of other women I’ve spoken to, Fearless depicts the many stages of fear faced by women in an inherently hostile world.
Nirupama: Tell me more about The Storm Factory and its artistic vision?
Avril: I was interested in working with musicians and visual artists. In order to do all the stuff I wanted to do with my dance, I decided to create a collaborative space. That is when I started The Storm Factory – a collective of dancers chosen by me that produces mixed media based work and allows collaborations between the art forms. It brings music, movement and visual art together in one space.
Nirupama: Have you personally faced circumstances where you’ve felt victimized by the issues the Fearless campaign addresses?
Avril: Fearless is a culmination of feelings and emotions and the constant struggle I go through on a daily basis as a woman living in urban India. I have had personal experiences of violence inflicted on me. I have spoken to so many women who have been victims of violence and I’ve tried to translate their experiences in Fearless. It talks about fear, the shame, the hypocrisy. It shows the reality of the current situation, to get people to think about and literally feel the atrocity of it all. On a very personal level, Fearless has helped me get over the trauma I went through, and has helped tell the stories of the many women I have spoken to.
Nirupama: According to you, how can Indian women address these issues and overcome their own fears?
Avril: It is very difficult for any of us to overcome these fears. It’s like we’re constantly walking on eggshells. Constantly. Trying not to make a big noise or grab attention. But we still have to do what we want to do. We still have to be. For example, when we are riding a bike, we know how to dress, whom to overtake or whom not to, who is following us – thinking about all this constantly can be very tiring, but that doesn’t mean you completely stop riding the bike. This is what I tell all women – to keep doing, to go out and talk about your fears, to know that you are not alone. The more of us there are on the streets, the more liberating it will be for all of us. It is also sad that all Indian men are getting such a bad name when there are so many great men who understand, who help and respect.
Nirupama: You’ve just recently launched Unravel — monthly nights curated by The Storm Factory at The Humming Tree. Can you tell me more about it, and how you felt before the performance showcasing something like this to Bangalore?
Avril: Well in this performance at The Humming Tree, Disbelieve explored the voices and the violence of patriarchy, and its effect on the feminine. The performers did this by combining movement, spoken word and devised theatre. They used a poem by Mohja Kaif – Disbeliever – and brought out the meaning of it in so many different contexts. The best part of the production for me was the dark humour they were able to bring out. Honestly, before the performance I was very nervous! In most of my past events I would be one of the performers, myself. But this time, I had no control of the content or the audience. However, the performance was very well received and we had one the best audiences too!
Nirupama: Finally, can you tell me a bit more about the music Arjun has composed exclusively for the Fearless choreography?
Avril: Arjun Chandran has worked really hard to create more than an hour of original music for Fearless. I am so glad to have found Arjun — it feels like my dance has found its music! He has been involved since the beginning of the concept and has watched it evolve in terms of expression and choreography. All the sounds used to create the soundtrack of Fearless was hand-recorded from around where I live, and painstakingly put together to create a seamless track — all in keeping with the aesthetic sense and rhythmic direction of the choreography. Arjun has also recorded the performers speaking about their personal experiences of violence, and uses soundbites of the same during the live performances. The sounds are heavy and hardhitting but have a beautiful sense of living and breathing. The tracks are intricately designed specifically for each piece and each movement in the choreography, to create intense moments of synchronicity.