Initiate, Transform, Sustain, Reach Out

Post Natyam Collective Members Reflect on Long-Distance Collaboration

Sunoh! Tell Me, Sister Photo © Andrei Andreev

Cynthia: As these examples suggest, our artistic output was becoming increasingly mediatized, with video, writing, and sound design supplanting dance. Moreover, our presentation format had started to shift, with online sharing, lecture-demonstrations, and installations presenting attractive alternatives to theatrical performance. The creative process behind our pilot long-distance project, SUNOH! Tell Me, Sister produced art installations, academic papers, an artbook, dance-for-camera videos, a full-length show, shorter stand-alone pieces, lecture-demonstrations, presented over the course of two years across the United States, Europe, and India in different configurations.

Sandra: We see this multidisciplinary proliferation of artistic output as a modern-day form of “natya.” The Sanskrit term natya or natyam traditionally integrates music, dance, and theater. In accordance with our mission to critically and creatively engage South Asian artistic tradition, one of our foci has become to extend “natya“ through technology. Since our process has transformed into an online collaboration, we increasingly re-articulate elements of natya, such as abhinaya and facial expressions, by adding video, multimedia, and graphic design. We began to remix “traditional” techniques and repertory to reflect the mediatized context in which we create work. Our works are increasingly “hybrid,” living at the intersection of live and virtual performing bodies.

Cynthia: Collaborating online has also shifted our relationship with our audience, encouraging greater participation in process. Locating our creative process on a public blog ( makes all of our assignments, raw material, and feedback transparent to the public, and allows them to give us feedback. We’ve also started to cultivate participatory structures within live performances that invite local audiences and artists to contribute. For example, before the performance of SUNOH! Tell Me, Sister, we asked audience members to write down stereotypes about their personal identity, which were incorporated into a video installation onstage via live feed:

“What’s Your Stereotype?” SUNOH! Tell Me, Sister – preshow installation

Also, for Trace, our 2009 art installation, we invited audience members to create their own poems from fragments of existing courtesan poetry in Make-Your-Own Padam; some of these poems were performed by guest artists in Rasa Re-routed.

Sandra: Several months ago, we started the process toward our newest collaboration, (Un)Epic Wonder Women, in which we work with contrasting notions of womanhood that intersect the mundane worlds of contemporary women juggling home, family and career and the astounding worlds of wonder women engaged in epic battles between good and evil. During this process we have had an observer who is not part of the collective or the project, but who engages in the process from the very beginning through blog comments and suggestions. His extensive knowledge about the comic book genre and American superheroes has contributed to the course of the assignment process and the development of the piece.

Cynthia Ling Lee, Sandra Chatterjee (2012): Initiate, Transform, Sustain, Reach Out. Post Natyam Collective Members Reflect on Long-Distance Collaboration. In: p/art/icipate – Kultur aktiv gestalten #01 ,