November 08, 2012

The perils of performance when you always have a cold

Like the dancer-from-birth who says things like 'I can't quite remember when I started dancing. Must have been before I walked.' to interviewers, I could have boasted similarly about my cold. Sadly, my sharp memory for trivia doesn't let me weave subtle fiction, and as a consequence, I know exactly when I started sniffling for life.

I was in the ninth grade and was just over the traumatic experience of getting dental braces. There was a sign in my orthodontist's clinic that said 'I <3 my dentist'. I would stare at it with great malevolence, willing it to metamorphose into 'I HATE my dentist.' In general, with steel wires and vaccines and injections in the gums, it was a bad time to be my doctor.

In the days before I succumbed to the joys of tissue paper, there was a steady assembly line of handkerchiefs that had to be washed and ironed to receive their daily dose of...well, snot. As far as my relations with people went, I was heartbroken when my desk partner and very good friend stopped talking to me because I blew my nose and finally went to sit at another desk. It was hard to comprehend that a cold could come in the way of a seemingly unbreakable friendship. I remember spending much time mulling over this abandonment, but then it was heartening because there were others who didn't think they had to stop talking to me because I had a cold.

And for a few years after this, all was well and I didn't think much of my cold. Having a constant cold doesn't mean I am blowing my nose all the time; it is sporadic like the cool breeze from the Malaya mountains; not as pleasant though. I was, however, constantly apologetic about my nose and its infinite sonic possibilities. Uncertain people were assuaged and comforted by my self-deprecating humour about the 'foghorn'.

When I danced, if I had a bad cold, this meant tucking a wisp of tissue paper into my costume. I have no idea how I actually would have handled blowing my nose on stage.

Krishna: Your beautiful face resembles the crescent moon; it is time for lurve.
Radha: Yes, what a lovely time for lovers and what a sad time for those who are all alone. Let us dance and frolic until next spring. But, wait a minute, I have to blow my nose.

So as you see, prevalent narrative trends in Indian classical dance are not very favourably disposed towards common cold.

Eventually, I met people who didn't seem bothered by my decibel-busting act. A friend I was having dinner with was puzzled when I kept running out of the room or turning away to blow my nose. When I actually started looking around me while blowing my nose, I discovered lots of people who didn't flinch. It was a wonderful thing to know, really.

So, now I blow away with impunity. But, being a conscientious audience member, I cannot bring myself to interrupt performances with unwelcome sounds. Here, classical dance is slightly more accommodating. I can gauge when the music is going to be loud and time my blowing with high-decibel music so that it goes unnoticed. And my sense of timing as far as remove tissue-duck-blow goes is often better than my sense of direction. 

My sense of direction is really good.

Having recently spent a week attending a contemporary dance festival with a runny nose, I argue that the contemporary trend of performing in silence puts some people's nasal passages through great torment. Especially if they are conscientious, like I am.

I sat through an hour-long performance by Padmini Chettur, performed largely in silence, not daring to breathe too hard. Partly because it was engrossing, but partly because drawing a deep breath would have meant whiney sounds. The next day, three more dancers performed in near-silent conditions, and it was sheer torture. Even the clapping is not loud enough, because audiences are often unsure whether the performance is over. 

Of course, when you are being such a good girl, there are still people around you whose phones ring and who answer them and loudly say in stage whispers, "I am in a performance and I'll call you later. What...? No, I can't hear you. No, no. (whispers get louder) I said I'll call you later. No, I'm not coming. No, I'll call you later. Yeah. Yeah. Bye." 

Then they experimentally see how their phones look once they are silenced. 

And then the performance ends; I hurriedly clap twice, blow my nose to orgasmic satisfaction, and rejoin the clapping with a sense of great fulfilment. Once again, I have excelled at my very own, silent, meta-performance.

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