PERFORMING HIV PREVENTION (PHP) REPORT
The Brown Dance Project (The BDP)
COLUMBUS OHIO - USA
Introducing The Brown Dance Project (BDP) in Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU), New Delhi: Translating HIV Prevention to Contemporary Dance
15-21 September 2014
Mansi Goyal, Pedagogy of Action (POA) Assistant
Professor Rodney A. Brown spent a week at Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU), New Delhi to share his research in the field of contemporary dance and education. He was hosted by the School of Arts and Aesthetics (SAA) where he delivered a lecture focusing on his publication entitled “Education Options In Dance Composition: The Brown Dance Project (The BDP) Translating the Pedagogy of Action (POA) Module on HIV Education to Dance” as part of SAA’s Friday Lecture Series under the theme of ‘Gendered Citizenship’. In addition to the lecture, Professor Brown shared his work through conducting two MODULE (2013) workshops whereby participants directly engaged with the dance translation of the POA Module on HIV Education, and by also instructing a physical practice class.
The success of these events were greatly determined by the following people and their work is greatly appreciated; Dr. Urmimala Sarkar (Associate Professor, School of Arts and Aesthetics, JNU); Raja, Ankush, Janani, Priyam, and Pankhuri (Students of JNU); Mandeep Raikhy (Managing Director, The Gati Dance Forum), Johnnie Kornegay (Manager, The Brown Dance Project), and of course all of the participants.
MODULE (2013) Workshop at School of Arts and Aesthetics Gallery (1 hour):
Brown first began with a workshop in the SAA Gallery with JNU students from various disciplines. It was organized by a queer group on campus, Dhanak, which is currently involved in holding discussion forums around queer concerns, politics, readings, and events. Some students who arrived were hesitant, saying that they would prefer to watch from the sidelines and then later decide if they would like to participate. The organizers and Brown convinced all of them to put aside their hesitations and fully participate, as the movement translation exercise was open to all.
The workshop began with Brown facilitating an ice-breaker activity around dance translation in which the participants used their bodies to make the first letter in their names. People started becoming comfortable as everyone repeated each others’ letter movements. Following this, the 6 parts of the HIV module were introduced- the biology lesson, HIV, the 4 ways, AIDS, FACTS, and LUCK. Using the pre-existing set-up of the gallery whereby the space is partially divided into three different spaces, Brown guided the group in a circular motion illustrating each part of the module through particular movements. Some of the movements were given directly, whereas others were decided upon by the individual. For example, in illustrating red blood cells in the biology lesson, Brown ferried about the larger space as if he were travelling in an auto-rickshaw. Participants travelled in their own ways through the space by moving their hands and feet akin to their version of the auto. This is the illustration of travelling red blood cells delivering nutrients to the various parts of the body
When explaining one of the ways in which HIV can be passed on from one person to another through sharing needles, Brown demonstrated the barrel of a needle with his arms and then locked his hands together with a slap. He explained that since HIV begins to die when in contact with air, the air-tight mechanism of the needle allows blood containing HIV to exist in an air-less environment. The students then repeated the needle-locking movement of the hands.
Slowly the number of student participants grew with the addition of on-lookers and late-comers to a total of 15 participants. As the parts of the module had been taught through the particular movements and accompanying explanations, it was seen that everyone had developed their own choreographed version of the module. As the workshop came to close, Brown reviewed the module with the group through the movements which have now been woven together in a fluid piece.
MODULE Workshop at The Gati Dance Forum (2.5 hours)
A longer workshop further developing the MODULE (2013) choreography was done at studio space of The Gati Dance Forum. Gati is a New Delhi based autonomous arts initiative in the field of contemporary dance that addresses areas of pedagogy, creation, research, arts advocacy and policy, and outreach (http://gatidance.com/). In this workshop, there was more time and space to develop a more fluid choreography and dance aesthetic to the module. The 7 participants were a mix of students and non-students, as well as dancers and non-dancers.
Ownership of the information in the module comes across as individuals incorporate their own sensibilities- be they personal examples, stories, words, and movements. For example, the introduction to the module is a story that leads to the discussion of blood, and this story is unique to the individual person doing the module. During this workshop, the participants generated a range of stories and illustrated them through movement in very creative ways.
Furthermore, particular choreographies given by Brown were also performed to set up various parts of the module. For example, in forming the ‘F’ in FACTS, individual or paired roles were given so as to ultimately produce the letter on the floor. This part also utilized previous movements that the participants had developed themselves in the previous parts (e.g. the auto movement in navigating the room (red blood cells), or the police pose (white blood cells)). The workshop resulted with the completion of a 3.5 minute individual and group choreography of the HIV module.
Striking a balance between the dance translation of the module and understanding each part of the module was negotiated throughout the workshop. How exactly does HIV get transmitted to someone through a needle or during childbirth? Why is caring and kindness important? What is the role of the white blood cells? Participants left the workshop affirming that they would feel comfortable teaching this information, whether through the dance or spoken medium. One participant expressed interest in doing this kind of workshop in schools, whereas another planned to use movement to teach about and address sexual assault.
“Performing HIV Education” Lecture in SAA/JNU
As mentioned above, Professor Brown delivered a lecture at the School of Arts and Aesthetics Auditorium regarding his online book publication that documents and discusses the process of the POA module dance translation. The lecture was attended by 38 people; mostly School of Arts and Aesthetics post-graduate and Ph.D. students, students from other disciplines, faculty, and individuals from other universities.
After introductions were given, Brown gave background to his work, and also how the module dance translation has been conceptualized. For example, this dance is not merely a piece to be consumed by a passive audience; rather it involves them in understanding the information being presented. In this vein, Brown terms them as ‘viewer/participants’, and the dancers who perform the information as ‘artists/investigators’.
After discussing the six parts of the oral POA module, the ways in which movements are used to translate it are illustrated through demonstrations by audience members. The name spelling exercise used in the MODULE (2013) choreography workshops is demonstrated by a student who spells the letters of her name in a fluid motion. In addition, 4 students moving in a line demonstrate how a letter can be traced in the dance floor. These letter movements reflect moments of the HIV module dance, used both as an educational and choreographic tool. In closing, Brown screened and narrated portions of the MODULE (2013) dance video (available in ‘MODULE (2013)’ section of his online publication).
Several questions were raised from the audience, such as what the role of dance in education was and vice versa, the meaning of dance innovation, how aesthetic and technical dance skills are used in this project, and also whether there has been an evaluation of the impact of the module dance. There was a positive response from the audience members as discussions of a future program in the region emerged as a distinct possibility.
Physical Practice Classes at The Gati Dance Forum
The School of Arts and Aesthetics at JNU offers post-graduate degree courses in the theoretical and critical study of the cinematic, visual, and performing arts in an integrated programme. At present however, it does not incorporate physical practice of the arts in its courses. Therefore, The Gati Dance Forum was a prime space to engage with as it has a strong focus on physical practice through community and professional classes, studio hire, and other events/workshops to promote the contemporary dance community in Delhi.
Professor Brown had the benefit of participating as a drop-in student in two of Gati’s classes- “Finding Inner Connections” by Swati Mohan and “Revisiting Fundamentals” by Mandeep Raikhy. In addition, he instructed a physical practice class “Contemporary with The Brown Dance Project” in which 5 individuals had participated. This class incorporated movement that employs the Lester Horton and Martha Graham dance techniques, Africanist techniques, Improvisations, and the instructor’s personal movement sensibilities. The participants of this class were quite enthused as well as challenged during this 1.5 hours class.