Samavesham, to be presented by Prakriti Foundation on December 8, will explore the concept of gender in traditional performing arts. A preview by V. R. DEVIKA.
Kathakali Kalamandalam Rajasekharan.
PRAKRITI FOUNDATION presents "Samavesham - Gender Transformation in South Indian Performing Arts," on December 8 at Sundar Mahal, Padmavathy Road, from 9.30 a.m. to 9.30 p.m. The day-long event will have performances of female roles by men and vice versa and include deliberations. Among the masters and seniors of traditional performing arts are Kathakali Kalamandalam Rajasekharan, Yakshagana Heranjalu Venkataramana Ganiga with Keremane Sivananda Hegde, Andhra Natyam Kalakrishna, Kattaikoothu P. Rajagopal and Current practitioners Tamil Isai Natakam Jayalatha, Bhagavathamela N. Srikant. New Directions in Kathakali will be done by Arjun Raina and Maya Krishna Rao and in Bharathanatyam by Navtej Singh Johar. Scholarly papers will be presented by Dr. Dennis Hudson, Dr. Alka Pande and Devesh Soneji.
Ranvir Shah, trustee of The Prakriti Foundation says, "Samavesham stems from a need to explore gender and its balances in the self. We are always performing our expected gender roles and yet what are the reasons, motivations and compulsions for performers to still continue to perform roles that require gender transformation. With Samavesham we hope that there will be some clarity. And there is sure to be intense rumination and reflection. Gender balances need to be struck not only within the self, family and community at large. Very often, we tend to view this with narrow perspectives. Hopefully Samavesham will allow us to view more sensitively, the interstices/limits of gender that we continually face with ourselves and others." Dr. Dennis Hudson, who will give the first paper, says, "My intent is to explore this theme as I find it in the Bhagavata Religion, which centres on Krishna as the complete embodiment of Narayana. I will draw on stories from traditional literature, both Sanskrit and Tamil, to look for ways to understand why men dressed as women play important roles in South Asian religions and cultures; this phenomenon does not appear to be important to religions that have developed from the Mediterranean region. This talk will probably raise more questions than it answers, but I hope it will stimulate further thought and discussion."
Kattakoothu P. Rajagopal says, " For me doing a female role is part of my profession. I pay the same attention and care to the impersonation of such a role as I do in the case of embodying a kattai (male) character. Perhaps the performance of female roles requires technically and personally an even greater effort on the part of the performer as the female roles in contemporary Kattaikoothu do not know an elaborate entrance part, such as the curtain entrance used by male characters. This means that the final transition from self into embodying the female character has to be more instant and has to take place without much obvious support from the performance context." ``When acting a female role they should think of me as a woman - even stronger - that particular woman in that particular story," says Maya Krishna Rao, who has performed a wide range of male characters including Krishna, Bhima, Hanuman, Ravana in Kathakali. ``The male role in Kathakali is not about taking on `maleness' but about creating a certain kind of energy in the body and letting it course through your veins," she explains. On that carriage of energy sits abhinaya - the gesture, the rasa that makes it male rather than female ."
Arjun Raina feels that the classical arts trivialise women specially when men transform themselves into women. According to him there is a kind of shared delight with the audience in a seeming act of identifying the female with a kind of mock feminine sexuality. This is an extension of male power and territory.
"For me," he says, "as an actor and performer a greater challenge lies in being able to not trivialise but experience a woman in her true spirit and expression. "
V. R. DEVIKA
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