Theatre as the woman's tool of expression
Kulavai 2003, to take place on Sunday at the Alliance Francaise, will feature nine women with feminist visions, themes and approaches. V. R. DEVIKA gives the details.
Usha Nangiar presents Nangiarkoothu.
PEOPLE WHO have a fascination for theatre must assemble at the Alliance Francaise auditorium on College Road in Chennai. The occasion? KULAVAI 2003 Women's theatre festival organised by the ``Voicing Silence" project of the M. S. Swaminathan Research Foundation. There will be a series of nine solo performances by women with feminist visions, themes and approaches. ``In the last decade," says Mina Swaminathan, ``the work of Voicing Silence has been a combination of three main strands. The first, developing and performing plays on women's issues or gendered themes, second organising collective sharing of experiences or women's theatre festivals bringing together cultural workers, theatre persons, social activists and NGOs and third, working with different communities of women, supporting them to use theatre as a tool of self expression empowerment.
Voicing Silence has held four interactive women's theatre festivals, called Kulavai or celebration, (kulavai is the Tamil name for the ululation sound made by women). Kulavai 2003 brings together nine performers from different parts of India performing in Telugu, Tamil, and Sanskrit, Hindi/Chattisgarhi and Gujarathi. From Andhra Pradesh, Indira Bala, a senior exponent of Harikatha will present Nartanasala. Harikatha is a musical narrative form that combines story telling with music, chanting and acting and calls for profound scholarship of epics, puranas and other classics. Usha Rani of Tamil Nadu will perform a solo narration of Amba from the Mahabharata and her rebirth as Sikhandi using koothu, Isai Natakam and body language to interpret the transformation of gender. Usha Rani belongs to a family of performing artistes and has been trained for the Isai Natakam stage since her childhood.
Usha Nangiar presents Nangiarkoothu, a part of the ancient classical dance drama Koodiyattom of Kerala. She belongs to the community of Nangiars. She will draw from her repertoire of Krishna's life stories to demonstrate the intricacies of this form.
Sapna Sand, a graduate of the National School of Drama, New Delhi, Sapna has also studied the folk drama form of Chattisgarh known as Pandvani, which is used to narrate the Mahabharata. In this solo piece developed by herself, Sapna combines both contemporary and folk styles to interpret the Rajasthani legend of Luna, a passionate story of youth, old age and unrequited love seen from the woman's angle.
Kalairani of Chennai, one of the best known leading contemporary Tamil actresses, and a member of the avante garde Tamil theatre group Koothu-p-pattarai and a popular actress on the Tamil cinema, presents a new piece, developed for Kulavai 2003. Aditi Desai, actress, director, activist and media person, is the founder of Drishti Media Collective and has rich experience of bringing theatre to varied groups in urban, rural and tribal areas and working with NGOs to address social issues, especially women's issues. She has developed a solo performance especially for Kulavai 2003 to communicate through theatrical expression, the tragedy that befell the women of Gujarat.
Maya Krishna Rao, Kathakali dancer, performer and teacher, was a founder member of a street theatre group in which she scripted, directed and performed in plays on issues concerning women. A visiting Faculty at the National School of Drama, where she teaches acting, Maya, who was earlier associated with NSD's Theatre-in-Education company, continues to work with schools and other educational institutions. For KULAVAI 2003, Maya will be performing one of her latest solo creations. Bhagirathi, from Karnataka, a graduate of the National School of Drama and Ninasam, will present ``Shakuntala Unduge Apharhna." Scripted by K. Vaidehi and directed by K. V. Subbanna, it is based on Kalidasa's classic, but with a departure. This Shakuntala is not bound by time and place, but is universal, introspective and exploring; not a victim of rejection, but one who can give lessons in self-esteem to all women, and who, after asking herself many questions, finally finds the courage to make a difficult decision.
Laxmi Chandrasekhar has been in theatre for over 30 years and is a member of the Kannada theatre group Samudaya (meaning community) which believes in theatre as an instrument for social change, has played major roles in most of the group's productions, as well as in several popular tele-serials. She has translated several short stories and plays by eminent Kannada authors into English, and developed two solo performances in both the languages. She presents a play ``Just a Woman," directed by Soumya Varma, was conceived and scripted by Laxmi herself. Drawing on performances, oral and written sources, the actress tells a poignant tale of oppression and resistance. The narrator, a modern middle-class woman, weaves together the words and stories of women characters, some from ancient myths, others from Kannada literature or from real-life contemporary incidents, using masks, costume, music, props and different styles of acting to bring the characters alive and examine the consequences for women of patriarchy.
Kulavai 2003 will be inaugurated by Sheila Rani Chunkath, an IAS officer from Tamil Nadu, very much interested in women's issues. There will be no speeches at the inauguration but just an unfurling of a scroll prepared by artist Sajitha and a melody played on the Jalatarangam by a member of the Voicing Silence group.
The venue is Alliance Francaise, the day February 9 and the time 10 a.m.-9 p.m.
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