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Interfacing with India in Italy - an artistic oasis
- Madhu Nataraj, Bangalore

March 5, 2013

There are phases in one's life when the spirit seeks an oasis; a space where one can absorb, recharge and welcome a metaphoric stillness. I experienced this much needed phase in Italy at the Teatro Tascabile di Bergamo. This is how it happened.

Last year I was awarded the 'Mohan Khokar award for excellence in Dance' at the 'Attendance' awards. The Attendance awards were initiated in 2010 by Ashish and Elisabeth Khokar who along with an eminent panel of jurists, acknowledge the contribution and sustained efforts of dance practitioners, pioneers, choreographers, curators. Since last year, the jury has been honoring senior gurus too. Unlike most awards which honour an artiste with a citation and memento, a purse even, this award is refreshingly different. The Attendance committee offers residencies and presents awardees at prominent fora.

I was awarded a 2 week residency at Teatro Tascabile di Bergamo. Bergamo is a stunningly beautiful medieval town tucked away at the foothills of the Alps, about an hour's drive from the vibrant and busy city of Milano. From the time I was received at the airport, until the time I returned, I was witness to the amazing warmth of my impeccable Italian hosts.

With the core team of TTB

Conference - Il Teatro Vivo

TTB is unique and the artistes who form its body and soul even more so. This theatre group came into being under the leadership of the visionary philosopher and actor, Renzo Vescovi in 1973, as a theatre lab committed to the research and development of outdoor theatre, eastern theatre-dance, pedagogy and dramaturgy. In 1978 the company interfaced with the late scholar and critic Mohan Khokar, who introduced them to Kathakali and Odissi. It was love at first sight. TTB fell madly and completely in love with Indian dance theatre! Soon after the actors left for India to study Kathakali, Odissi and Bharatanatyam and these forms became an intrinsic part of their physical theatre vocabulary. Till today, each actor has to specialize in an Indian dance form, play an instrument of their choice and of course act in order to be part of this Company. To me, they truly embody the essence of 'Natya'- an amalgam of dance, drama and music which results in a 'complete' performer.

Teatro Tascabile, loosely translated means ' Theatre in your pocket'. As the name suggests they brought about a renaissance by performing in parks, crowded Bazaars and quaint town squares, inhabiting spaces not conventionally connected to dance theatre in modern times. They are a traveling company and our own Yakshagana's 'Thirugaattaa' traveling play concept kept crossing my mind as I watched this company at close quarters. Renzo passed away in 2005 and the distraught company members took over the running of the company.

Today, TTB's senior thespian Giuseppe Chierichetti along with Tiziana Barbiero, Alessandro, Luigia Calcaterra, Mauro Danesi along with other senior and new members continue Renzo's vision. They have brought in a fresh perspective with their own body of experiences and expertise. Apart from traditional European genres like Comedie della Arts and 20th century theatre techniques, they also include "Via Bonomini", the skeletons' theatre, connected to the "macabri bergamaschi" - the imaginative world to their repertoire. In the last four decades this wonderful and inspiring company has created over 111 works and taken this ' moving theatre' to 36 countries!

Coming back to me (!), I was invited to conduct workshops in Kathak, speak at a conference on the subject 'Indian dance - from tradition to contemporary times' and perform as part of their 'Il teatro vivo' theme for 2012. My performance took place at the Teatro Sociale, a beautiful, old opera house with a richness that a space can only acquire from hosting innumerable performances and holding some amazing energies.

TTB performing 'Valse'

Teatro Sociale

My solo Kathak performance featured my Guru Dr. Maya Rao's choreographies as well as my own new works. The Italian audiences are so evolved and involved. For the next few days, we were discussing my performance, its nuances, the philosophy of the chosen themes, the raagas and the like. I recall an Italian tabla player walking up to me and reciting one of Shambhu Maharaj's 'bols' from the Jhinjhoti Tarana that Maya-ji has choreographed and saying how rare it was to listen to such pure syllables in today's times! It was a joy sharing my dance experiences with such discerning rasikas. I felt honoured to bring Kathak into the pedagogic realm of TTB through my workshops.

My next stop was at the dynamic Bharatanatyam and contemporary dancer Maresa Moglia's institute in picturesque Sienna, Tuscany. Maresa personifies the buzz of New York where she grew up, the warmth of Italy which she made her home and the essence of Bharatanatyam which is her passion! Here too, I conducted workshops for some wonderful dancers and performed at the Corte dei Miracoli - the Court of Miracles.

Just to think that through these weeks, I would wake up to excellent Italian espresso, do an unhurried Yoga routine, take class, breathe fresh mountain air, take long walks, perform, ideate, get to indulge my love of Art history and architecture in the old churches, buildings, museums and have cerebral conversations on the arts with like minded artistes and generally get inspired...every day!

These 2 weeks in Italy were like a beautiful dream for a person like me, who's life in Bangalore is subsumed and consumed in running a dance company, planning tours, fund raising, managing delicate egos in the arts scenario, writing proposals and doing endless administrative work... leaving hardly any time for what I love - dance and choreography!

I travel a lot. Travel is my oxygen. Rarely do I stay in Bangalore for longer than a week before a performance or tour transports me to another space. But this time thanks to the Attendance award, I got the opportunity to interface with a truly committed theatre company and excellent artistes with hearts of gold in a time of mediocrity and hypocrisy.

By welcoming the beauty of stillness, I experienced an oasis which will always allow me to dip into it and reclaim my creative space...anytime, anywhere.

Madhu Nataraj is a Kathak and contemporary Indian dancer and choreographer. She heads the Natya & STEM Dance Kampni.

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