Sinha Danse: Roger Sinha in Zeros & Ones

Monday, January 19, 2015, 7:30 pm
University of Ottawa, Academic Hall, 135 Séraphin-Marion (West side entrance only)

The Evening Also Features Sonia St-Michel in Images of Odissi

Sinha Danse is a dance company created in 1991 by Roger Sinha, in Montreal. His work merges contemporary dance with classical Indian dance and martial arts, new technologies, digital performance and Bharata Natyam, a dance from south India. Roger Sinha is the 2011 winner of the Kathryn Ash Choreographic Commission.

His performance at DANs/cE KAPITAL Festival 2015, features Zeros and Ones, a solo performance that uses a hybrid vocabulary where spoken word, video, and new technologies allow the emergence of a poetic language of the body. The solo examines how close East and West can come together before they collide. Wired up with sensors, one on each limb, and attached to the special metallic bells and using the an interactive software, each movement triggers fragments of sound and poetry turning Sinha into a physical spoken word.

Zeros and Ones is a strong statement on the demographic bubble with India's multinationals and Coca Colas and Tata Indicas amidst the backdrop of contrastingly traditional beautiful screened visual images of eloquent eye gestures, telling the story of Draupadi, Bhima and Hanuman.

Q&A With Roger Sinha

1. Well, HELLO! Your performance sounds ah-mazing! A feast for the eyes, the senses, the mind. Could you tell us where the early sketches for Zeros and Ones came from? How did these ideas start meshing in your mind?

It was my various trips to India that made me realize all the huge technological changes that were happening in that country at such an incredibly fast rate. When I first went there in 1994, very few people had their own phone. You had to go to a local office to use a phone, or very rarely, a neighbour or a relative who might have one. Now everyone, even the vegetable seller in his stall on the corner street has a cell phone. I was wondering about the impact of such huge technological changes at such a fast pace on the country.

I had always been a big fan of spoken word, but did not feel that I had enough skills to compose a text. I needed and wanted one for Zeros and Ones, so I relied on technology to provide me with such a text with a call-out in the Internet universe to give me a piece that I could use that spoke a great deal about the subject. I wanted it to be angry, in your face with kind of a “rap” approach. So, I asked authors to submit material to me and found one that was perfect from Ottawa’s Nadia Chaney.

Excerpt from Zeros & Ones by Nadia Chaney:

integrated circuits,

TI zylog sun microsystems inc.

multinational boom

boom tech       boom tech

boom boom tech       boom tech

Indian IT industry

infused with new blood.

middle class masks
completing the task,
enslaved to the papers
dishwashers skyscrapers.
convenience leaning its head on your caper.
upward mobility causes concussions
because the powers that be
can’t be trusted, it’s bluffing.
the muffling of purpose,
wealth is all on the surface
but the journey is worthless
if it’s all about firstness;

2. Zeros and Ones implies a kind of binary logic. Is that something to take away?

Not really, it simply reflects the notion of the use of technology in the piece, the reflection on technology, and how it often damages the healthy growth of a society. There is a great deal of talk in the text about multinational corporations and their effect on chain populations.

Communities are left thirsting as Coca-Cola draws water from common water resources. Its operations are polluting the scarce water that remains. The emergence of local, grassroots struggles against the cola giant's operation in India should also serve as a reminder to Coca-Cola’s bosses in Atlanta that this is not a public relations problem that one can just "spin" and wish away. Rather, the heart of the issue is a serious concern about control over natural resources and the right of communities to determine how business is done in their communities.

Protesters in Mehdiganj were met at Coca-Cola's factory gates by about 200 police personnel, sent to "protect" the plant along with 50 gun-toting private security guards. This was not all for show—the demonstrators were beaten up. The Coca-Cola plant in Mehdiganj enjoys heavily subsidized electricity and is accused of spewing toxins into surrounding agricultural fields, as well as causing serious water shortage as a result of its operations. We have a report from Mehdiganj.

The following text in Zeroes and Ones actually brings this up. There is much contrast in the work showing the confusion between east and west ideals:

A contrasting ideal? An us and them?
I came up with a phrase

dust and digits their playground
the e-haves and the e-have nots

this reflects those who have more or greater access to technology and thus information and those who do not, information thus technology becomes the new currency.

An algorithmic-like understanding
of contemporary India?

3. You use wired sensors on each limb in your performance. How did this idea come about?

I am a bit of a technophile myself and have always worked with technology in my processes in terms of recording archiving and editing. I wanted to take this to the stage. I have always wanted my movements to create some kind of sound, kind of like science fiction movies such as Terminator, where you see the robots move and you hear their sounds. With the kind of technology one had in 2009, this could be possible. Since I wanted to talk about technology in Zeros and Ones, it seemed appropriate that technology should be used in the creation.

I have also always wanted my movements to create sound. I like dancing with recorded movement and do it in the piece, but I am always looking for new ways of expression. There are other possibilities of simply putting on music from my iTunes playlist and just dancing to it. If there exists the possibility of using my movement to create sound, then I want to explore it.

4. Are you able to expand upon your ideas and expression using the sensors and the other technologies you use in your performances? Why do this?

The 2 videos that I use in the piece bring India to Ottawa. They were filmed in India and feature very skilled Bharata Natyam dancers. They use Ahbinaya, the facial expressions of Indian dance that tells stories and expresses emotions. I don’t do this and have never learned, but these elements are important to the story of the work and without this kind of video projection, I could not express this.

As for the whole sensor aspect, I explained some of that above. I am always looking for new ways of expression, especially when it comes to improvisation. I have worked for many years improvising and always wanted to improvise the movements for practically an entire piece. I didn’t know how to approach this until technology gave me an invite. I improvise my movements quite a bit in the piece—about 70%. If I am going to do movements that are never the same for each performance, it doesn’t make sense for me to use music that is pre-recorded and always the same. The sound has to be variable as well, and change from performance to performance. Instead of using live musicians, I wanted to use the technology that we didn’t have available 10 years ago.

I should note that I used a different kind of technology in 2008 for Zeros and Ones than I do now, I hired a new sound designer, Navid Navab, to redo the technology and make it simpler and more effective. I still use sensors, but these have a more sophisticated interface with the MAX/MSP technology we are using.

I have also added a new element as well. I play the didgeridoo live on stage. I feel that it adds an interesting element to the work and since the ridge is practically entirely improvised as an instrument, it makes great sense to play it. Plus, quite simply, I have developed this new passion for the past year and want to put it to use, especially since my sound designer can manipulate the sounds