2015: Frenemies


Frenemies is a duet in search of the amorous song in the body! It locates the song between love and hate and sees it as a voice emanating out of the bones and joints of the body as opposed to the heart.  While the work loosely rests upon the make-belief world of The Maids of Jean Genet, central to it remains the ‘inconsequential’ love song of the pleasure women—the temple dancers (devadasis) of the South and the courtesans (tawaifs) of Northern India.

A passionate dance duet filled with liquid movement, Frenemies attempts to grind itself against the grit of love and loss embedded in the song. Through the dialectic between the harsh realities of the housemaids’ world and the ho-holds-barred love narratives of the pleasure women (the devadasis of the South and the tawaifs of Northern India), this production seeks to arrive ultimately at a state of nirvanic emptiness within the body. Frenemies is about a lick, a bite, a jab, a jab, a sting, a sigh and a song, all rolled into one! 

Concept and Choreography: Navtej Johar
Performers: Navtej Johar and Lokesh Bharadwaj
Lighting: Nitin Jain
Costumes: Diwas Gill
Photography: Anshuman Sen
Music: Arvo Part, Barkat Ali Khan, Malladi Brothers, Meredith Monk, T Brinda & T Mukta, Venkat Satish, plus inputs from Seetu Singh
Music Engineer: Deepak Samson
Outside Eye: Shumita Didi


Excerpts of Reviews of Frenemies

Indian dance artist Navtej Johar treats us to a work with such cool elegance............with fellow male performer Lokesh Bharadwaj [the two] take on the female roles and offer a slow-burn sensuousness from start to finish. ..........Johar’s predominantly measured and acutely slow choreography [is] positively hypnotic....Frenemies transmits sensations to full effect....The tensions between the two roleplaying dancers are subtle, and the menace simply simmers — but they are there.

Mayo Martin, TODAY online, Singapore, July 4, 2015

Rage Buried in oceans of calm:  The dance duet by Navtej Johar and Lokesh Bharadwaj was an unhurried, restrained meditation, punctuated by bouts of ferocity......While in the hands of lesser performers, this stillness may have been tedious, in the masterful hands of Johar and Bharadwaj, the quiet was deafening.....Johar is a mesmerising, feline performer with fervid, glittering almond-shaped eyes that smouldered and chilled with the seasons. Bharadwaj, though smaller in stature, came across as the more physically imposing....Though Johar's choreography may have been clean and plain, the authority displayed by the dancers - and the seamless connection between them - made Frenemies a must-watch

Lisabel Ting, The Strait Times, July 4, 2015

Excerpts of Comments

The dance duet saw Johar and Bharadwaj work through the medium of Bharatanatyam, internalising the form to such an extent that the viewer knew it was there and yet it seemed to have an elusive presence...... Also evident in the performance was the dancers' tension with Bharatanatyam, a love-hate relationship of sorts, that was somehow implicit in the very title Frenemies. ........ at [one] point it became so clear that the devadasi can never be extricated from the dance form, even when the dancer (Johar) is wearing a sleeveless white cotton dress cut a couple of inches above the knees with his grey hair, beard and moustache in place. The costumes were simple and highly effective......Also Bharatanatyam, that initially came across as being elusive, had actually maintained a constant presence in a multitude of ways

Nirmala Sheshadri, Dancer-Choreographer-Researcher, Singapore

It’s pretty revolutionary to have traditional Indian dance performing ANY narrative beyond the Mahabharata or the Ramayana.....and here Navtej Johar and Lokesh Bharadwaj are doing a queer play about two queer maids who want to murder their mistress.  Every movement seems borrowed from classical dance, even the strange moments where they tremble holding teacups or cradle forks and platters. Even as (particularly when?) they dominate one another, asserting mastery and servitude….They become one another’s nawabs and slaves, one sitting and gazing imperiously at the audience while the other fans the other, like something out of a Mughal miniature…..It’s queer rather than gay.....Yeah, not a gay pride thing. This show isn’t proud of male-male love. It’s interested in how (when?) it doesn’t work......But that moment towards the end, where they move into a divine pair, standing, progressing slowly towards us as if in a dream or mist, like a god and his consort…

Ng Yi-Sheng, Singapore International Arts Festival Blog, July 3, 2015

I was curious- how does one use Bharatanatyam, a classical art form that is so entrenched in culture, religion and symbolism, and then dabble with subject matter as risque as sadomasochism?

It was a pensive start that gradually built up to multiple climaxes...........The movement sequences tampered with speed and rhythm, synchrony and disjuncture, a union and a severance between the two, with strong undertones of a power relationship. The scenes were infused with short segments of songs, possessing a raw beauty and tone to them that was enchanting. But it was nothing compared to the voice of Navtej Johar- beautiful, strained and honest-resonating throughout the space.

The O.P.E.N. Blog, July 10, 2015


 Links to Reviews:

Support for making Frenemies came from the India Foundation for the Arts