Theatre persons Alys Kihl and Annie Blaber on what they found out about traditional theatre and dance in the city

It was a change of scene for Alys Kihl and Annie Blaber, theatre persons from the United Kingdom (U.K.) who were in the city on a project in collaboration with the British Council.

Members of the Wonderful Beast Theatre Group, Alys and Annie were in Kerala to meet theatre persons, explore different kinds of theatre and to ponder over traditional theatre and dance.

Journeying through Chennai and Thrissur, the two were on their last leg of their journey in India. Sipping lassi and admiring the bird's eye view of the city from the rooftop of Hotel Pankaj, Alys and Annie open up about their experiences with theatre here.

Wonderful beast

“Wonderful Beast was co-founded by Alys and Penny Cherns in 1997. We work with actors, musicians, writers, and dancers to recreate myths, legends, folk tales and stories,” explains Annie. Alys, who has worked with Anusha Subramanium, an Indian Bharatanatyam dancer and dance therapist settled in the U.K, is keen on working with Indian drama and theatre. A chance meeting with theatre director M.G. Jyotish (of Abhinaya Theatre Group) during the Edinburgh theatre festival motivated her to include the city in their itinerary.

Their 15-day stay in the city was packed with interactions and demonstrations, as Bandu Prasad (again of Abhinya) cobbled together a programme that helped them sample some of the different kinds of theatre, modern and traditional, in the city. A whirlwind trip that has left Alys and Annie gushing about the vibrant theatre scene in the city and its ardent practitioners.

“We interacted with Daksha Seth, Reghuottaman, Usha Nangiar, Etumanoor Kannan and professional and amateur actors too. What really impresses me is the real passion and commitment to theatre,” says Annie.

If Usha Nangiar's Nangiarkoothu impressed them because it “represented women's empowerment,” Alys seems fascinated by “the spiritual approach of Ramachandran Gurukal's martial arts performance.” “It's called Kalari payittu…,” Annie reminds Alys after leafing through the pages of her diary.

They were also spellbound spectators to a Kathakali performance by Etumanoor Kannan. “Kannan wants to experiment. This is exactly what we came in search of – it was traditional mixed with the contemporary,” aver the duo.

“Theatre is an intellectual pursuit in the city,” feelsAnnie as she recalls how they were left mesmerised by the long chat they had with Raghuttoman, co-founder of Abhinaya Theatre Company. On hearing about Abhinaya's weekly perfomance at Manaveeyam Veedhi their thoughts drift back to Europe and the Paris Theatre Cafe. “As our stay did not include a Sunday, we couldn't make it to one of their performances,” rues Alys.

Their biggest disappointment, however, was missing a performance by Margi. Alys and Annie were guests of honour at an actor training session organised by Jyotish, Surjith, Pratheesh and Kannan of Abhinaya.

“In the U.K., a person can undergo a three-year drama course, and if he wants he can come out as the same person. But here it seems to be a long process and that too a process that appears to transform one intellectually too. The process can't be rushed, it's slow and deep,” opines Alys.

The duo also wish to highlight, that even though the stages are small and audiences are minimal, commercialisation does not pollute the aesthetics of drama in the city. Annie and Alys were also caught off guard by the strength of the guru-shishya bond, especially with the practice of touching the guru's feet in respect. They frankly admit that the whole idea of respecting the master is alien to theatre of the West. “Maybe it's because we are two oldies, we love to see youngsters respecting elders," they giggle. “One fantastic experience after another.” The city has played the role of a wonderful hostess.