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On a mission of a cultural sort

PADMA JEYARAJ

Farley Richmond's interest in Kerala and, particularly, traditional performing arts has him coming back year after year.


According to Farley, dwindling interest in traditional performing arts is a worldwide phenomenon.<232>



AT HOME: Professor Richard Farley, left, on his annual visit to Kerala catches up with L.S. Rajagopalan.

Farley Richmond, Director of Centre for Asian Studies, Franklin College of Arts and Sciences, University of Georgia, has come for his yearly `discover India mission.'

Prof. Farley has been an unacknowledged cultural ambassador for the past many years.

His experiences with theatre in India date back to his student days in the National School of Drama, New Delhi in 1967.

Connection with Kerala

In 1969, on a trip to Kerala, he met L.S. Rajagopalan whose research in ancient performing arts is well known. They met Maani Madhava Chakiyar, veteran teacher-performer of Koodiyattom.

It was a decisive visit that made Richmond do an 18-month course under Rama Chakiyar in Kalamandalam and spend his weekends with his friend who guided him in delving deep into the theoretical aspects of Koodiyattom.

The result was the publication of `Indian Theatre Traditions of Performance' and an abiding interest in traditional performing arts. He took Kalamandalam Rama Chakiyar and Eswaran Unni, teachers of Koodiyattom, on a teaching assignment to the State University of New York, where they choreographed and performed with students in the United States.

Prof. Richmond has a collection of costumes, musical instruments like the mizhav, and a number of dolls in dance costumes. "The Americans perform very well, their only problem is their accented recital of the verse," observes Rajagopalan. Prof. Richmond made a CD titled `Kutiyattam: Sanscrit Theatre of India' published by the University of Michigan in 2002.

The purpose of the visit

Prof. Richmond, an avid lover of India has brought batches of students to India, many of whom returned to India on their own for further studies. This year, 13 students have come with two teachers to tour India, the focus is on history, culture, theatre, music, film, and dance. And for the excited students, India is an eye-opener.

In Kerala, the focus is on theatre and film. "Both the students and teachers need to have a world-view," says Prof. Richmond.

"The uniqueness of Kerala is its spectacular natural surroundings and a warm-hearted people who can communicate in English." He feels that interest in theatre is more pronounced in West Bengal than in Kerala. According to him, a dwindling interest in traditional performing arts is a worldwide phenomenon.

"The reasons: spread of modern ideas, artistes looking for economic security, technology and mass communication. However, research and search for innovation takes one to the roots."

"Learn from the Balinese. They preserve their temple art as part of their culture. And they have short versions for tourists. We are coming next year, the Chairman of my Department and two teachers have already booked," says the professor.

Rajagopalan arranged short programmes such as string puppetry, shadow puppetry, and `Sarppam Thullal,' for the group. They saw `Surpanaghankam' (Koodiyatam) and `Lavanasuravadham' (Kathakali), which were staged by students of Kerala Kalamandalam.

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