Umeshi Rajeendra

Through rebounding turns and inextricable twists, the medium of performance has always been an expression of its own. The performance art of dance creates a space of mutual understanding, expressing through movements, the story of a narrator. In the period of quarantine and self-isolation, it is crucial to be linked, connected in mind and body to express and heal, to comprehend and most of all, recuperate. In conversation with performance artist Umeshi Rajeendra, we explore how dance helps one recover from a global pandemic, in extension, strengthening the link between mind, body and soul.

Having made her dancing debut at the age of six, Umeshi received her Bachelor of Arts (BA) in Dance from Denison University, USA, and is currently reading for her Master of Fine Arts (MFA) in Dance at the University of the Arts, where she is one of the recipients of the President’s Fund for Excellence 2020. Her work is in a place of in-between through a decolonial framework existing in the cracks of traditional and movement forms such as contemporary dance, Kandyan, Bharathanatyam, African diaspora and Hip-hop. She has taught and performed in the US and across South Asia. Previously, Umeshi performed and worked with artists such as the South African artist Dada Masilo, US artists Jesse Zarritt, Sandra Mathern-Smith, and Julie Fox. In 2015, she was a speaker at the prestigious Ted X Colombo platform, and in 2016, she was invited by Denison University as a Speaker to inspire the next generation of students and given a full scholarship to be a part of the International Choreographer’s Residency Program at the American Dance Festival held at Duke University with whom she has an on-going partnership. In conversation, Umeshi unveiled the particular nuances through which art contributes to healing and being in tune to one’s own consciousness.

Q | In this period of quarantine, how has dance helped you emotionally?

A | Movement has always been my mode of understanding, thinking and communicating with the world, and so in moments of such isolation, dance can offer a powerful means of connecting and feeling grounded — and a means of reflecting on the disorienting and unpredictable present. Especially during this time when we are compelled not only to inhabit, but also to move within the space we are quarantined in, I find myself returning to the ways artists have always made art out of “anything, and everything”, researching the multiple sites that exist in our domestic spaces. For instance, the bed is a site of research, a site of intimacy, a site of trauma, a site of dreams, a site of rest etc. And so, art helps me see that we have always adapted by coming up with very imaginative ways to find connections even when we are not in the same space together. Furthermore, it is also helping me address what it means to be ‘still’ when so many people like healthcare workers cannot stop moving as they place themselves at great risk. So, there are many ways in which this period of slowness is asking me to respond to, and art is my mode of doing so.

Q | In your opinion, how inter-related is art to healing?

A | The nature of healing, at its core, has to do with looking deeply and honestly at all aspects of our lives, from physical to emotional to spiritual. Because Art is about creativity through introspection, it has a way of uncovering fresh thinking, depth, texture, and colour to the everyday, opening emotional and existential landscapes that not only pushes us to be reflective, but also helps us reimagine possibilities of a better life. But it is important to note that there are challenges that may require professional art/movement therapy, as there is a difference between art being therapeutic and knowing when to seek professional help.

Photography by Kevin Fernando and Malaka Premasiri 

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10th June, 2020 Performance Art