Reflections on ‘Equality!’: Cie Lindh and Weingartner’s North-East India tour

Pro Helvetia Nuova Delhi, Arti sceniche

Nota: questo post è disponibile solo in inglese.

The following paragraphs are excerpts from the report and reflections by Benjamin Lindh and Rebecca Weingartner who along with Surjit Nongmeikapam, Joshua Sailo and Lapdiang Syiem participated in the Northeast India Tour of EQUALITY!.

Sharing the topic of gender equality through performance and workshops took us on an expansive journey to three different cities in Northeast India: Aizawl, Itanagar, and Shillong-that engaged us physically, emotionally and relationally as we reflected on the topic with fresh perspectives with the people we met.

We spent almost all day long together, thrown out of our normal routines back home where in our western lifestyles we spend much more time alone. The initial idea of having the time split into co-teaching workshops, researching and exchanging our practices with different artists from the Northeast on top of performing EQUALITY! turned out to be a success in terms of audience development, creating accessibility to the performing arts of contemporary and strengthening the networks in the Northeast. Through our workshops at dance centers, primary school and colleges, we managed to reach out to many people of different ages as many from the workshops came to see performance of EQUALITY!

Connections helped us to expand our existing network beyond artists, and identify arts managers, lighting and sound professionals, communities and organizations who are invested in nurturing the growth of contemporary arts. We hope these partnerships will foster more exchange in the future.

Equality! workshop in Aizawl with La Montessori school. Photo by Miz Archival (Kijo)

Workshops focused on partnering, conducting movement together and compositional practices. All the above led to engaging conversations and thoughts on gender equality. In Aizawl, for example, a woman with the wish to be a leader someday mentioned how incredibly important the topic was for her.

Equality! workshop in Itanagar. Photo by Lutker Lombi.

We also developed a sensitive and impactful model of co-teaching, where co-teachers would improvise a structure responding to the size, abilities and age of each workshop. This openness in structure helped us to identify inherent qualities of participants and devise ways to enhance existing skills and abilities, and offer tools that they could use to extend their knowledge. Sometimes, contributing and collaborating can mean offering space for others to lead. Roles do not have to be shared equally to have equal contributions. Having co teachers helped us overcome cultural barriers as well in reading responses of the groups.

Performance: EQUALITY! by Company Lindh&Weingartner is a great piece to introduce people to contemporary dance as it is immediately relatable, funny, entertaining, and hard hitting with its message. Audiences of all ages were greatly invested in the piece due to the interactive nature of the piece. At the current audience level, this piece was a perfect way to engage young audiences and peak their curiosity.

Equality! performance. Photo by Abigail Nongsiej and Betsie Ranglong.

Conversations on Equality: The support group of this whole project were mostly women. This is very special in regions where society is still mainly male dominant, also in work forces. They all work with the topic of gender visibilities. As we can often see, even in Western societies, it’s harder for women to be acknowledged. In northeast India, it’s very rare that women get the acknowledgement they deserve.

Nevertheless, the most important aspect of working with this topic is awareness of where and who we are. Equality is not about doing the same things, but about awareness of that there can be a choice. Every work and activity/non activity should be valued with what it gives – not only to society as a whole, but also within communities, families and friendships. Rather, what is primarily valued is generally productive economic activity, yet we need both, and without both, there is also no equality.

A deep and extended engagement also highlight differences in cultural and freedom in addressing social issues between Switzerland and the three cities – on feminism, gender issues (LGBTQ+ movement) – as well as infrastructure and ability to address environmental issues. This tour was a beginning of these conversations and hope to build on these ideas with care and sensitivity.

Equality! performance. Photo by Abigail Nongsiej and Betsie Ranglong.

Team dynamics: As much of our exchange on ideas was already happening through our conversations, we began to be more flexible with these “studio hours”. We basked in each other’s presence, received and transformed one another’s practices that felt like extensions of each of ourselves.

Inspired by what transpired at each of these exchanges, we decided to open each performance with an open improvisation that was deeply moving for each of us. Our emotions also began to emerge as we found solidarity within each other’s presence. Perhaps our report is best shared through the emotions and feelings that surfaced:

  • Trust: Teaching workshops together worked smoothly because we all had a common way of supporting one another’s ideas and were able to fill in for each other when needed, sometimes co-teaching parallelly.

It’s important to recognize the previous collaborations which helped build bridges for this one, and that Joshua met Benjamin and Rebecca in Switzerland, finding a way to bring them to Northeast India.

  • Fear: Creating spaces for meaningful dialogue around EQUALITY! also meant that we have to be vulnerable and open with ourselves. At times uncomfortable, it often opened the room for fear to come through: fear of being present coming from a conflict zone; fear of underperforming. Reflecting together, we found that collaboration is often the answer as we can rely on one another to fill in the gaps
  • Anger: How do we defuse tension with sensitivity and without shaming seemingly “negative” emotions? During this project, there were various moments when conflict and tension culminated to outbursts of anger. There were days we would wake up angry with the noise – literal construction or traffic noises, as well as the constant noise of war, terror, conflict and injustices. Anger is an important way to engage with difficult issues, to get involved and then to channel that energy into constructive and creative ways of expression. This is our tool and power as engaged artists.

More learnings

Trips to rivers, farms, forests, forts, monasteries etc to spend time with locals and connect with the land fostered many opportunities to understand the geography that shaped the livelihoods of the places we visited. These intimate moments helped to generate more understanding of the land and its people,

We asked ourselves about our heritage and relationship to dance and tried to become aware of how history shaped topics such as culture, expression, gender equality and Equity in society.

it’s so much easier to work on this topic in a studio or in conversations than in daily life. As we have seen, we address a very serious topic, which in the frame of a workshop or performance has more space than in daily interactions. It’s very hard to integrate the sensitivity for what each of us has to change in order for us to be more equal. Being more equal means seeing where we come from in terms of what resources we bring, and where we come from. This requires an awareness of oppression and privilege in our own society and others.

Rebecca Weingartner and Benjamin Lindh. Equality! Itanagar performance. Photo by Lutker Lombi

How can we nurture courage and confidence to speak up, and to bring those who have less power to speak up, be heard and be seen. How can we be sensitive to what’s needed?

We cannot step into another person’s reality, but what we can do is to imagine what it’s like to be someone else from somewhere completely different from ourselves, so that we have another perspective on living.

Equality! performance. Photo by Abigail Nongsiej and Betsie Ranglong.