There is something about story-telling that captivates my imagination; it is an intrinsic part of South Asian culture. I grew up in New Delhi, India, in the 1980s, at a time when watching the Ramayana and Mahabharata were the beginning of our exposure to television, but mostly listening to stories from these epics, read to me by my mother. Decades later, these stories still intrigue me and I found a kindred spirit in Amit Patel, who grew up in Fremont, California in the 1990s, watching these on DVD, with his ba. These Hindu epics which mostly celebrate the victory of good over evil, read differently when viewed now – less simplistic, more layered, providing more questions than answers.
A preoccupation with the different elements and characters of the Ramayana led to the idea of “Unearthed,” inspired by our interest in excavating alternate points of view, giving a voice to the characters who remain voiceless. The Ramayana brings forth the perspective of the victor Rama, and even Sita, so central to the narrative, is largely absent from it. Saroopnakha makes a brief appearance even as the entire war hinges on revenge for her mutilation. Ravana avenges his sister Saroopnakha, by kidnapping Rama’s wife Sita, leading to the war that ultimately ends with his death. He is remembered as the demon king; the monster whose effigies are still burned in India even today, during the festival of Dusshera. But the dominant narrative isn’t the only one that exists and we are interested in excavating the stories that exist outside it.
In “Unearthed,” we bring to light some of these other perspectives, how they intersect and even contradict one another. Looking at the characters as multi-faceted, with traits that go beyond the distillation of good versus evil, we examine how and why these stories are relevant in the modern context. The discomfort a patriarchal society feels when a woman, especially Saroopnakha being a middle aged-widow, expresses desire. The burden of responsibility on Sita to prove her “purity” is reminiscent of the “Me Too” movement where the burden of proof often falls on the women. Some characters are elevated to Gods and thus become beyond questioning, while others are reduced to mere caricatures.
“Unearthed” is an Indian Contemporary dance experience, a collision of a traditional and modern movement rooted in storytelling. It is our attempt to revive the live performance experience, especially after the Covid-19 pandemic which adversely affected the performing arts. Bringing together elements of dance, music, and narration in an intimate live performance, we are excited to present this in San Francisco in April 2022. This is the beginning of many stories and a mission to bring forth the idiom of Indian Contemporary dance.
Amit and I come from different generations and bring forth our experiences and identities. I am an immigrant who seeks to combine art and activism in my work. I came to the U.S. to study modern dance, have been a professional dancer and choreographer for over a decade, and am also a parent to a four-year-old. Amit is a first-generation-born American committed to representing the LGBTQIA+ community through combining Eastern and Western dance styles and aesthetics and creating safe spaces that enable people to come together through his work. He has a significant digital presence and has toured many countries to teach.
“Unearthed” is our first live collaboration, original in concept. We are fortunate to receive support from the ODC rental relief initiative but need additional financial support in order to bring forth our vision and support all the artists associated with this project. Our GoFundMe link is as follows:
We hope for your support in amplifying new voices in South Asian art. Stay updated on the “Unearthed” experience on our Instagram page: Unearthed.show
Ishika Seth is an Indian immigrant, choreographer, dancer, dance educator, writer & parent. She strives to create works to challenge social, cultural, and political constructs. She combines Indian and Western aesthetic and movement styles to create an idiom of the Indian Contemporary dance movement. Her eclectic training in modern dance, contemporary, jazz, yoga, mayurbhanj chhau, ballet, and Bollywood enable her to constantly explore and expand her movement vocabulary and art-making. She obtained her BA in Dance from SJSU and has been dancing professionally for 15 years. To connect on social media, please check out Ishika’s Instagram, Facebook and YouTube
Co-Director – Unearthed