Mandeep Raikhy on the spaces that his choreographic creation Queen-size has occupied across India in resistance against criminalization of queer intimacies.

I made Queen-size in order to take it OUT.

Out of theatres that charge you a bomb. Outside of the proscenium space only a few access. Outside of the festival circuit. Outside of the metropolitan cities. Out, to the people, in various contexts. To students, to people who don’t watch theatre – to where dance can get some air and encounter life again.

This second photograph shows the set for a ‘Queen-size’ show in Artsphere, Pune. The performance is yet to begin. In the centre of a dim but warmly lit small hall is a charpoy on and around which the dancers (Lalit Khatana and Parinay Mehra) will perform. There are plastic chairs placed all around the charpoy. They are mostly empty, with only two or three people seated on the right side of the hall shrouded in darkness. The centre of the performance space is lit up with the white roping of the charpoy standing out under a unique light piece created by Jonathan O’ Hear – electric bulbs suspended in lantern glasses half filled with water, each of these 40-50 light sets strung on to points on a square-shaped bamboo grid (like in a tic-tac-toe game) hanging from the ceiling. During the performance, the grid will occasionally move to the creaking of the charpoy and intermittent brooding music by Yasuhiro Moringa; it will be stationary when the dancers perform in silence. The doorway to the hall in the background is lit up with a light source outside. Photo credit: Kavi Datt.

Artsphere, Pune. Photo credit: Kavi Datt

Queen-size is a piece where the viewing of the work is an integral part of the work itself, where your own gaze along with that of the fellow audience members, as well as that of the performers, opens up fresh readings of the work.

I have encountered over 4,000 audience members in an intimate setting around the charpoy on which the dancers, Lalit Khatana and Parinay Mehra, perform intimacy evening after evening. In all 38 performances in 17 cities across the country since last year, these encounters have become an archive of sorts – an archive of different kinds of gazes; an archive of the various readings of the same work, of conversations around privacy, morality, love and rights. An archive of what performed intimacy can invoke.

This third photograph shows a glimpse of ‘Queen-size’ being performed inside a room at the Ashoka University in Sonepat. The doorway to the performance space is closed but it has glass panes through which two individuals are peering in. Both performers are standing next to the charpoy facing away from the camera – Parinay Mehra has his back to Lalit Khatana, with his grey t-shirt pulled up to his head. He is wearing cream coloured trousers. Lalit Khatana, in dark trousers, is also shirtless, and is right behind Parinay Mehra touching his back. Only one corner of the charpoy (which is between the doorway and the performers) and a part of the light piece on the ceiling are visible. The performance space, as usual, is bathed in a dim, warm light. On the outside, next to the glass panes are poster-size notices providing details of ‘Queen-size’ and dos and don’ts for viewers. Photo credit: Sidharth Sarcar.

Ashoka University, Sonepat. Photo credit: Sidharth Sarcar

In the 17 cities we have been to, we have performed in the most wonderful spaces ever. From a dining room / kitchen in Imphal, where the audience was invited to sit on the kitchen counter and negotiate with the gas cooker and chimney to view the work, to SPACES in Chennai – late dancer and choreographer Chandralekha’s home, a place where the country’s most radical dance and thought has emerged from. From a museum dedicated to conflict in old-town Ahmedabad to a law chamber in Guwahati. Not to mention the prayer hall we used as a rehearsal space in Imphal.

This fourth photograph shows ‘Queen-size’ being performed at the Attakkalari Biennial in Bangalore. It provides a clear view of Parinay Mehra on his back on the charpoy; his legs raised and folded at the knees, the lower halves held by Lalit Khatana, who is standing upright next to the charpoy. Parinay Mehra is wearing only cream coloured trousers, while Lalit Khatana is in an orange shirt with folded sleeves and in red and black horizontally-striped underwear. Jonathan O’ Hear’s light piece gleams splendidly against the dark ceiling above and throws a golden glow on the charpoy and the performers below. About two dozen viewers in rapt attention are seated on the far side of the performance space around two sides of the charpoy. Photo credit: Magali Couffon.

Attakkalari Biennial, Bangalore. Photo credit: Magali Couffon

This fifth photograph shows ‘Queen-size’ being performed at Bethany Society, Shillong. Dancers Parinay Mehra and Lalit Khatana are in an embrace, moving fast in a blur of action. Both are facing away from the camera. Parinay Mehra is bending slightly to the left, touching the charpoy edge with his left hand to balance himself, his right hand raised in the air. Lalit Khatana is moving to hug and press him close from behind. Parinary Mehra is in cream coloured trousers and grey t-shirt, while Lalit Khatana has his orange shirt on with sleeves folded, but no trousers – the shirt covering his underwear. About a dozen people are seated in the background shrouded in darkness, while the centre of the performance space (the charpoy and the dancers) is partially lit up by the light piece above. In the foreground is an empty part of the performance floor. Photo credit: Kavi Datt.

Bethany Society, Shillong. Photo credit: Kavi Datt

Each space lent a fresh reading to the work and has added to this growing archive of spaces that continue to stand for activism through the arts in these times of cultural censorship.

This sixth photograph was taken at Kattaikkuttu Sangam in Kanchipuram. The performance of ‘Queen-size’ is yet to begin, and this is a day-time photograph, during a rehearsal period. The performance space is a small hall with windows high up near the ceiling through which the edges of a slanting roof outside are visible. Huge black curtains seem to mark the boundaries of the performance area, though one can see a blur of light behind them coming through the entrances to the hall. There are benches without backrests placed all around the charpoy, which is in the centre of the performance area. Three young boys are lolling on the charpoy, while another is standing on the left side of the charpoy, looking up, bending backwards; his right hand on the edge of the charpoy. Could he be imitating the dancers? On the left side of the room, another boy sitting on a bench is looking intently at the dancer Parinay Mehra seated next to him. Parinay Mehra is looking back with a faint smile. He is in a black sleeveless vest and slacks. Yet another boy, somewhat older than the others but not likely more than 15 years, is seated on a bench near the dancer. This boy is looking at the camera. All the boys are dressed in shirts or t-shirts and trousers. Photo credit: Kavi Datt.

Kattaikkuttu Sangam, Kanchipuram. Photo credit: Kavi Datt

This seventh photograph shows ‘Queen-size’ being performed at the OddBird Theatre in Delhi. In this photograph, the charpoy is at its usual central position in the performance space, but is turned upside down. Both dancers seem to be asleep on the charpoy, with Lalit Khatana snuggling up to Parinay Mehra from behind, his left arm on the left shoulder of Parinay Mehra and right hand stretched out towards the edge of the charpoy. They have their backs to the camera. They are in their usual attire – grey t-shirt and cream coloured trousers for Parinay Mehra, and orange shirt and dark trousers for Lalit Khatana. Light from the arrangement above seems to fall gently on them and the wooden floor around the charpoy. At least a dozen people are visible in muted light, seated all around the performance space. Photo credit: Sidharth Sarcar.

Oddbird Theatre, Delhi. Photo credit: Sidharth Sarcar

This eighth photograph shows a scene from the ‘Queen-size’ premiere at Jor Bagh in Delhi. The camera is quite up close to the two performers – Lalit Khatana is bare-chested, half seated, reclining on his elbows in one corner of the charpoy; Parinay Mehra with bare legs and grey-green t-shirt is lying on his back on Lalit Khatana, with his head on Lalit Khatana’s chest. Both dancers have their eye closed. The lights above, only partially visible, seem to be swaying lightly. Around 15 viewers are visible in muted light in the background – on two sides of the charpoy – watching intently. The wall on one side of the performance space has two rectangular cutouts, possibly for the purpose of projection. Some people seem to be peering in through these cutouts as well. Photo credit: Virkein Dhar.

Premiere show at Jor Bagh, Delhi. Photo credit: Virkein Dhar

This ninth photograph is taken outdoors in the evening darkness at SPACES, Chennai, a pioneering contemporary dance institution in India. The photograph is a long shot of the performance space for ‘Queen-size’ – a large, shed-like open structure with a slanted and tiled roof and a raised two-step high platform. The show is yet to start and only dancer Lalit Khatana can be seen standing on the charpoy in the centre, posing for the photograph with a smile. There are empty chairs all around the charpoy. The only light source is the gleaming light piece, all lamps ablaze, not far above the tall dancer’s head. Everything else is shrouded in darkness. Only the trunk of a tree to the left of the shed is barely visible, as is a part of the courtyard floor where the shed stands. Photo credit: Mandeep Raikhy.

SPACES, Chennai. Photo credit: Mandeep Raikhy

This 10th photograph shows ‘Queen-size’ being performed at Studio Nilima in Guwahati. The performance space seems to be a small hall, with several vertical and ceiling beams. One such vertical beam is a prominent feature in the background. There is a clear side shot of the two dancers poised on the charpoy performing a scene indicating raw intimacy. Both are in only their underwear (a red and black striped number for Lalit Khatana and a black one for Parinay Mehra); their shirts thrown carelessly on the edges of the charpoy. Lalit Khatana is holding himself aloft on his arms and legs forming a boat like structure; Parinay Mehra is astride Lalit Khatana’s middle. Both dancers are looking at each other intently. The viewers in the audience are looking somewhat bashfully at them. The partially visible light piece above bathes the dancers and the charpoy in a golden glow. The audience, seated on either side of the beam as well as around the charpoy, is in relative darkness. A large closed door can be seen in the background on the right side of the hall. Photo credit: Anonymous.

Studio Nilima, Guwahati. Photo credit: Anonymous

This 11th and final photograph in this photo-feature is taken at night from outside the ‘Queen-size’ venue in Imphal – a homestay called The Giving Tree. The performance space is on a higher floor, and the photograph, taken from the ground below, captures the lighting arrangement hanging from the ceiling through a window. A few heads can be seen silhouetted against the window. Juxtaposed against the golden glow in the window is the full moon in the night sky peering through the clouds. The surrounding darkness outside makes this a play of light as much as the dance inside. Photo credit: Surjit Nongmeikapam.

The Giving Tree, Imphal. Photo credit: Surjit Nongmeikapam

For details about the content and associated aspects of the performance like music and lighting, see ‘Queen-size’ Show Coming to Kolkata in the January 2017 issue of Varta and Art in Museums, Films, Ropes and Charpoys in the February 2017 issue.

Main photo credit: Kavi Datt (performance of Queen-size under way at Sitara Studio in Mumbai).