Cosmic Longing of Jyoti Dogra – An Intrepid Traveller’s Guide
Black Hole is a 90-minute solo, devised theatre piece brought to you by over three years of research, improvisation, a visit to CERN, a grant from the India Foundation for the Arts, and self-doubt (notes Scroll.in contributing writer – Chanpreet Khurana). Jyoti Dogra brings to life a fugue of inevitability and timid nothingness. A one-woman show grappling with three characters – herself, her husband, and a dying relative, presumably an older woman. The show returns to Bengaluru at Ranga Shankara to a packed house just for one night.
The theatre community is abuzz. The audience is populated by first-time viewers and returning viewers alike. The expectations are set high as if an “offbeat” destination gone viral on Instagram. Will the reality meet expectations? Will it beckon a second viewing? “Scroll on to find out!”, I would say if I weren’t a self-respecting adult reviewing a rather serious piece of experimental theatre.
Yet, if you are considering undertaking the unhurried journey that is Dogra’s meandering rush into the black hole, let me be your travel guide. To embark on this journey, here are some essentials. Pack patience – abundant. Plan for moist eyes a couple of times over. Pass a chuckle, kindly. And, wear comfortable shoes. We will be making leaps in science.
Destination: Black Hole
The journey – rather unsurprisingly – is into a black hole. To you, who may not be familiar with what a black hole is (an assumption Dogra makes a few times throughout the run time) here is something that closely sums it up – “a black hole forms when massive stars — at least several times the heft of the sun — collapse under their own gravity at the end of their lives.”
In this slow march to the closest neighbouring black hole that Dogra claims is 6000 lightyears away, a fact that has been upended since the show began, we see dream talk of suicidal ideation within the subconscious of a grieving woman.
In a moment as tender as fleeting as is possible the thespian says, “nobody notices a fading woman,” in relationship to the difference between disappearing and fading. To say that if one were to disappear, as often one prone to disappearing does, there would be questions. And consequences. Yet, when one fades, no one seems to notice.
In this, she exposes why her subconscious-dream mind keeps pushing her into a black hole that she consciously knows will devour her whole and leave none of it. It is the idea that it will do so slowly. That if she fades into it with a flourish of a goodbye lingering in slow-motion, as she does at the very conclusion of the show, no one will know what she, and by now us, know. That she wanted to go. That she wanted to disappear.
Transportation: Devices of the Devised Act
What would you possibly need to journey into a black hole, you might wonder. “Just a bedsheet,” claims Dogra. The refrain, unconvincingly, points to the prop that could make or break this show. A bedsheet. A “pure cotton bedsheet,” she says even as this viewer doubts the same.
A popular phrase thrown around at post-show reception with faint fascination was, “the bedsheet!” The object doubles (or, triples?) into a loved one, a black hole, and a bedsheet strewn with blood at different points in the show.
A rather structured piece of cloth, it forms masterful shapes and adds a texture to the show that makes it truly physical. The kind of physical that makes you feel as though you were on stage, touching, bending, shaping, playing with a 4’x8’ (approx.) white piece of cloth.
She quotes on the topic of the cloth, “This piece began with a desire to work with something outside of me – an object, which becomes my collaborator and co-actor. A single white bed sheet took on this role and over a period of time, we began to explore ideas from Theoretical Physics.”
To add to the body and the cloth on stage is the artful blend of projection as light and light as projection. She has previously spoken about “using projections as a source of light rather than as equipment that will project images.” However, in this show, she uses projection mapping to turn the bedsheet into shapes and colours straight from your vivid imagination.
Some of the vignettes we will be passing in this journey are theories of thermodynamics – to say that energy never was and will never be except that it always is; the Schwarzschild radius – as Dogra sopranos the formula 2MG/c^2; the idea of belonging-unbelonging within a poignant question – “do you feel at home in this universe?”; and the deeper haunts of death and grief.
Accommodation: Make Space
Accommodate for derivative science. As Dogra fuses science with philosophy, alpha decaying turns into a body’s message in a charged particle, reaching far out, travelling in space, and possibly, possibly making its way through a black hole and to singularity. The tiny, tiny, tiny, tiny core of a black hole where matter is all one, where space and time fold in on themselves and disappear – that is singularity. Something scientists aren’t sure really exists, though philosophers are fascinated by it.
While the execution of this highly dynamic bodywork puts this sight on the ‘must-see’ list of attractions, the relationships between scientific concepts and philosophical narratives make this viewer wish we had had a lift-off.
A slow-moving saga which has its moment of bright brilliance requires you to wait for it. So does Black Hole. This 90-minute reckoning with the human condition has its moments that one must arrive at by trudging through feverish pitches of sung dialogues, switch-usage of Hindi language at unclear triggers (often while portraying the dying relative, sometimes in translation from English, sometimes in response to the character’s husband, and sometimes mid-speech with the audience), a caricature of what an older woman’s voice sounds like to Dogra, and repetitive dialogues.
So, yes, budget for patience aplenty.
Are you at home in the universe? Do you wish the journey was longer? Will you be another in a long line of returning viewers to Jyoti Dogra’s Black Hole?
The answer for this viewer for all questions above has to be a no. No with the knowledge that my life is richer for having seen it once at least, and so must any of you contemplating giving this vista a visit.
*Any views or opinions expressed are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of Articulate and Kolkata Centre for Creativity.
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Nupur Saraswat is an international stage artist and a writer. She is the creator of the art form Theatrical Poetry. Through her work she explores the unbounded personal liberties as the ultimate beckoning of any social movement. She creates, directs, and performs shows that have been hailed as "urgent and engaging". She is currently touring with her show 'Live.Love.Loaf. An investigation into who gets to loiter' across Asia.