Jyoti Dogra

Arts Practice

Grant Period: Ten months

Jyoti Dogra is a Mumbai-based theatre actor. Her practice involves making devised pieces which are not narrative or text-based, but use the self as a starting point. She has been devising, directing and performing original works over a decade now. She has received two grants from IFA earlier, which enabled her to create the performances titled The Doorway and Notes on Chai. The present grant supports Jyoti to create a performance piece that will explore the idea of the ‘black hole’ in the realms of science, philosophy and the personal.

Of all the elements in the cosmos, black holes hold a place of special significance and mystery for physicists as well as common people. They are dark celestial objects, existing silently in a dark cosmos – a region in space time where the gravitational force is so strong that nothing - not even light - can escape from it. Inside a black hole, laws of physics break down and there is no concept of time or space as we know it. Shrouded in mystery, the black hole inspires a deep sense of awe and wonder in the collective imagination, giving human beings a strange connection with these cosmic anomalies. It is from this point of connection between the cosmic and the personal that the idea for the present performance springs. In exploring connections between consciousness and astrophysics, and the objective nature of science and the subjective nature of the being, Jyoti attempts through this work to blur the boundaries of the outer and the inner cosmos, by interweaving personal narratives and scientific theories.

Working towards this performance began for Jyoti sometime in 2015 when she began thinking about it. While many ideas in theoretical physics moved her deeply, she had for long failed to understand what it was that moved her. And yet she was gripped by a desire to interrogate into how the ideas about stars, nebulae and black holes impacted the way she was experiencing the world and her own self. This brought her into a long phase of work involving reading, researching and identifying scientific ideas that she connected with on a personal level. She then began to put this research on to the floor, improvising with body and voice, creating images, texts and sections on sound. Slowly with time, a language for the piece began to emerge. Interactions with physicists and science writers eventually offered her new perspectives on the piece. Following their inputs, from July 2017 onwards, Jyoti has been working rigorously on the piece.

The piece is titled Black Hole. The premise of the piece is a recurring dream that haunts the protagonist, where she finds herself at the edge of a massive black hole, waiting to be sucked in. But the black hole, instead of pulling her in, stares back at her, waiting for her to take the first step, a step that she is unable to take. Throughout the piece, this dream of standing at the edge of a black hole will be woven through smaller narratives and principles from physics where the text will be intertwined with mathematical equations, scientific principles and definitions which will bring in different textures of language. The idea is to create varied emotional landscapes. A single white bed sheet will be the only prop and co-actor for this piece, and the images created with the materiality of the sheet and the body will keep changing the visual landscape of the work. In terms of music and sound design, the attempt will be to create a textured sonic background. Projection mapping is another new element that this piece will explore in order to give the visual element a lyrical quality, allowing for a more subjective and visceral entry point into the piece.

Further, in this piece, Jyoti will examine the idea of boundaries in different frameworks – of the body, the self, those we love and share our lives with, experience, mortal loss and memory, space and time, black holes and the universe.

As Jyoti observes, most theatre texts written around the sciences focus on scientists and their lives and not so much on the idea of science or the theories and principles that these seekers have wrestled with in their lives. In addition to this, the scientific and the personal / philosophical are often considered distinctly separate domains. Also, in a country like India with rich and diverse traditions of spiritual inquiry, there is always the danger of ‘science’ being co-opted into the realm of the ‘spiritual’, without scope for a real dialogue between the two domains. Jyoti believes that this work will provide that bridge for these seemingly disparate worlds to dialogue with each other in constructive ways.

With this grant, Jyoti will perform 14 shows of Black Hole across nine places. The performance is scheduled to premiere in Delhi in December 2018. Subsequently, the work will travel to Bareilly and then to seven places in Himachal Pradesh including Hamirpur, Kaaleshwar, Dharamsala, Andrietta, Mandi, Kullu and Naggar. The deliverables from this project will be still and video documentation of the performances.