Sohaila Kapur

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VEENAPANI'S WORLD OF MYTH, MAGIC AND METAPHOR

Sohaila Kapur | July 30, 2011
'The Hare and The Tortoise' explored the illusion of movement through music;(left) Chawla


Veenapani Chawla won the Sangeet Natak Akademi Award in 2010 for her cutting-edge creativity as a theatre director. She is undoubtedly one of the important experimental theatre practitioners of modern India. In 1981, She founded Adishakti, a performing arts community, near Auroville, Pondicherry, and has directed several performances like Oedipus (1981), The Trojan Women (1984), A Greater Dawn (Savitri) (1992), Impressions of Bhima (1994), Brhannala (1998), Ganapati (2000) and The Hare and The Tortoise (2007). She also runs an annual Ramayana Festival at Adishakti, that invites artistes from around the country and abroad. Excerpts from an interview: 

Your theatre is more philosophical, often placing ancient mythology in a modern context. How did you evolve this form?


Myth allows interpretation, it allows metaphor. It can resonate into our times and provide us with multiple layers of meaning. I believe that is its relevance. In the work I do, I try to allow these multiple layers to express themselves through signifiers which are not restricted to the 'word'. Thus a complex idea could find its expression through a piece of music, for instance. 
In the production The Hare and the Tortoise, which reflects on the illusion of movement, the related theme explored was Zeno's Paradox. This is not expressed or articulated in words, it is interpreted through music. It is expressed through a fugue. The fugue repeats a theme through infinite variation and so gives at once the sense of movement and of non-movement. 

You often have artistes in residence and also invite performances. How is that different to what Rangashankara does in Bangalore and Prithvi in Mumbai?


Adishakti is a residential repertory company. And our main work is to explore various fields so as to create tools for performance craft or to explore ideas and texts towards the creating of contemporary texts for performance. From this material we create our performances and disseminate it through our training workshops. We are like Rangashankara and Prithvi theatre in that we host performances from elsewhere but unlike them we do this occasionally and not commercially. 

How did the Ramayana Festival start and what kind of audience do you get?


One of the goals of the three-year-old Ramayana Festival was to open the epic to contemporary interpretations so that both traditional and contemporary performers could create new and relevant performance texts based on it. Another was to use this occasion to create a dialogue between academics and other experts and performers, in the hope that something new would emerge from such diverse interactions. The Ramayana is increasingly becoming a vexed text in our times and the objective of the festivals at Adishakti since 2009 was to allow the many voices in and around it to find release and expression in a variety of ways, so that the differences and conflicts surrounding it get accommodated within the consciousness of the community. The audiences were an interesting mix of scholars, writers, performers, artists, musicians from different parts of India and abroad, village folk and residents of Auroville and Pondicherry. 

I believe your style of working is to hold regular workshops with artistes in residence and then collectively evolve a performance. Can you elaborate?


The performers at Adishakti spend time everyday not only on the practice of their craft, but also time with me on an exploration into extending their current practice. Apart from this, when there is a need to inquire into a particular discipline or an art we call in experts and learn from them for a while and then explore that learning to create a new vocabulary for our performances. For example, we are currently exploring rhythm and we have interactions with Chhanda Shastra experts and percussionists and hope to soon call in a mathematician. 
When I direct a performance, I write out the script first and then create the performance, drawing on any of the vocabularies that have been created or often create the vocabulary needed simultaneously while creating the performance. 

How do you see Adishakti 20 years from now?


I would like it be an organisation within which the academy and the arts, theory and praxis, ideas and artistic creativity are perfectly balanced.

 

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