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Art takes artists to distant shores
- P Praveen Kumar

April 18, 2016

I landed in Bogota, Colombia (WOW!!!!!!)

The welcome sign said since “Bogota is 2600 meters above sea level, on the first few days of stay you may feel dizziness or slight headaches; if you get this, don’t worry, it’s completely  normal” and it said the city has serious security problems (What an exciting welcome!). But eventually, all was fine with me and the rest of my group.

As we checked  into the Tenquandam Hotel, all of us were given an individual room and with  great excitement, I opened the curtain of my room to enjoy the view of  Bogota city (I was in 6th  floor), tall buildings, subways, underpasses, cars, bicycles zooming in and out like any other  foreign land, and I notice one more important thing… Men with guns! Yes, these are the policemen patrolling or standing all around the city. In fact, sometimes on late evenings one can   see more of these policemen than the usual crowd on the streets.
These were some of the experiences of my trip to perform in a theatre festival, but before this, the exciting news of me getting invited to Colombia to perform was on a different level because South America conjures visions of hills, adventures, the wonders of nature, coffee, crime at its  peak, drugs, all the necessary components of a crazy  exploration. So for me it was YESSSSS!

I was invited to be a part of the TTB theatre group in Italy who are well known for their theatre committed to the research and development of outdoor theatre, eastern and western dance, music, the arts, science of teaching and performance structure. They are equally good and popular in our art forms also. Their new production “Sul dorso della tartaruga” (meaning ‘On the tortoise shell’) was being presented at this international theatre festival of arts in Colombia. Earlier also, working with them made me happy, more so because they prefer to see more traditional work by refreshing their perceptions of “traditional” as an array rather than frozen in times. For artists, multi-dimensional training and experiences add to the reality of life. Few such opportunities exist in all fields which enriches your life and art in you, so I was indeed happy to go through this experience again.
So, the story of the production was… an open space performance based on a symmetrical exploration of Eastern and Western theatrical traditions. The project design originates from the desire to show the Hindu myth of churning of the ocean. As the story goes, Lord Vishnu turned into a huge turtle to hold the mountain Mandara on its back, thus allowing the divine nectar to be recovered from the waters of the ocean. This is a travelogue written by apparitions, sounds, drama and wonders. It is the chronicle of a journey which starts from the marvels (East is exotic to the West and West to the East) and ends up with respecting each other’s differences.

And it’s during this comeback home that one meets our ‘Arlequin’ (played with great aplomb by Tiziana) very much similar to our “sutradhar” or vidhushaka whose body language had lots to do with our classical styles. To the rhythm of Mozart's “Idomeneo” cheeky Balinese monkey (played by Anthonietta) and Arlequin perform their chaotic and joyful dance in a shower of golden petals.
So this Arlequin takes the role of a guide and leads the spectators to discover fabulous and marvelous Oriental lands. Characters and scenes from the East intertwine with his presence: a dancer performs a traditional Indian song while the Arlequin dancing with vigour and lightness becomes the mirror imitating the movements in the company of a Balinese monkey.

As in a great montage of attractions, other characters on stilts come up (in which the dancers walk and dance on six-foot high steel rods). In the shape of a fabulous pageant, peopled by aristocratic and folk masks, king and queen (played  by Mauro and Catherine) come on with their dignitaries and servants (played by Luigia and Rosa) who stride through the crowd with dignity and boldness. Then Kathakali (amazingly danced on stilts by Alessandro and Ruben) performers dance with their famous wooden crowns. The performance is replete with attractive narratives.

The best way to learn about the world of the performing arts is to work with the people who make it happen. Traveling abroad is particularly valuable because it gives the artists the chance to experience the performing arts of ours in another culture. For instance, after the show some people came and asked me, “What was the dance that you did?” and “Was it Sanskrit language in that song?” Some even said because of the wind, my costumes flying here and there looked   beautiful!!). It was good to see the way different arts organizations interact with diverse art   communities. Sometimes, art takes artists miles away to enrich one’s own art along with some   added perks like getting a chance to see exotic places and enjoy life blissfully with exotic food (yummm!!!!)

Bharatanatyam dancer P. Praveen Kumar is the artistic director of Chithkala School of Dance in Bangalore.

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