Leading up to the performance of Echoes and I Imagine by Aakash Odedra, PDSW was curious to learn more about the collaborations that have been developing behind the scenes. We quickly found that one collaboration has been in the process for years with artist, David Poznanter - a mask maker and artist who has created, taught and performed all over the world. We recently asked David for his story and how this collaboration with Aakash came about. Here is a wonderful piece of writing that delves into the creation process with intricate details that all interested in the arts will enjoy.
I first met Aakash in Mumbai in 2012. At the time I was working as the circus coach and personal trainer to Bollywood superstar Aamir Khan, and was invited to perform some of my circus and dance work at a festival in which Aakash was also performing. I was absolutely stunned by his performance, and so I was deeply flattered when he approached me to say how much he’d enjoyed mine. We hit it off right away, and within just our first few minutes of talking we both got very excited about the possibility of collaborating on a project “someday.”
The next year Aakash flew back to India for our first period of working together. At the time, we assumed we were beginning to work on a dance piece I would perform, so a good portion of our work consisted of Aakash training me in his technique and choreography. We also spent a lot of time exploring the intersection of text and dance, mixing into the movement material my personal history and, for example, my obsession with math, repetition and rhythmic counting.
As we had no funding for our work together, we decided we would make time to work together when we could, and to trust that even if it took years, eventually we’d find the right moment to put the pieces together.
In the summer of 2015 I was touring my two-man mask / circus / live music show, “BOOM!” (www.boomcircus.com), throughout Europe and had a few weeks off between shows. Aakash invited me to come stay with him in Leicester, so I hopped across the pond and showed up at his front door with a huge metal acrobatic hoop, a ukulele, and of course a suitcase full of masks.
Aakash was in creation for “I Imagine” at the time, and invited me to work with him in the studio. Admittedly, most of our work “together” that first week consisted of me trying desperately (and almost exclusively failing) to keep up with him as he taught me choreography he was creating for the piece.
One night I had my masks out and Aakash tried one on. I learned mask-making and mask theatre under the mentorship of Italian master Matteo Destro while studying at Helikos, a physical theatre conservatory in Florence, Italy. In the way I was taught to work with masks, we generally use a very long and slow process of giving birth to each new character that comes to life when someone puts on a mask for the first time. Before working with Aakash, I had recently created “BOOM!,” directed a solo mask show in Brazil and created 29 masks for a production of “Don Quixote” in San Francisco.
In all of these processes, we most often spend hours, or sometimes even days, in the mask finding the body of the character, then the vibration and breath, and only then begin to explore the voice. In this case, Aakash simply put on the mask, instantly transformed his body, and started speaking in character within a few seconds. And it was pure magic!
Aakash decided right away that he wanted to find a way to integrate masks into the piece, and so I set to work right away creating masks for him. When he headed into the studio each morning, I headed out into the garden to spend my day with my hands on clay, creating the forms that would become the characters in “I Imagine.” Once I finished sculpting the masks in clay, I cast into plaster “negatives,” into which I used paper maché to create the masks themselves, ripping, soaking, and carefully placing the pieces of paper into the wee hours of the night.
Once they dried, I cut the edges and the eyes of the masks to fit Aakash’s face and hairline, and made small adjustments to ensure the mask would fit smoothly against the skin of his cheeks. Then I used thin strips of paper to smooth out the border of the masks and to protect from fraying, which allows them to last for years of performance. Next I covered them with a thin layer of spackling paste, which I sanded - a step which not only give the smooth skin-like appearance, but also allows subtle sculptural changes that help bring out different aspects of the mask. Finally, I painted the masks to give the skin tones that would integrate with Aakash’s face and “play” appropriately under the stage lights in the final show.
While I was delighted to get the chance to share some mask technique with Aakash and to participate a bit in the rehearsal process, soon after finishing the masks I had to fly off for the next part of my own tour. So in the end, it was Aakash and his incredible creative team that brought the masks to life and integrated them so seamlessly into the piece. I was sad not to get to be there for the opening night, but truly honored and delighted to know that my masks were joining Aakash on stage to share such a powerful piece of dance and storytelling.
As for me, the mask journey continues. I’ve continued touring “BOOM!” over the past three years, performing all over Europe, as well as in the US and most recently in Taiwan. I’ve been creating new families of masks, teaching around the world, and exploring ways to integrate different kinds of masks into various forms of performance, as well as the intersection of masks and parkour, film, and photography. To see more of my work, please feel free to visit my site: www.davidpoznanter.com.