Folk art Alex Walker, Aurore Jullien and Andrea Tuijten found their second home at the Kattaikuttu Gurukulam where they taught students modern drama and dance and in turn, experienced Indian culture.
To be very frank, my first thought when I arrived to work at the Kattaikuttu Gurukulam was “what am I doing here?” I was just 20 minutes away from a town called Kancheepuram that had just two pages devoted to in the Lonely Planet. Thankfully, this feeling subsided quickly and within 48 hours, I found myself utterly adoring my new home away from home. Kattaikkuttu itself blew me away. And continues to do so. The performances are long and loud and bright and intoxicating.
Getting a chance to peer into ways of life in the countryside was a precious and rare opportunity; revealing something complex, sensitive and with far more layers than I expected.
My project was challenging: I directed an Australian play with a group of 26 seven to 14 year old youngsters. I have recruited (read: blatantly forced) some of the older students to translate portions into Tamil to create a hybrid, cross-culture cross-genre production. It was ambitious, which meant half the time I have no idea what they are saying.
It is a long process. But a highly amusing one. And one I wouldn't swap for the world.
Alex Walker is a writer and a youth theatre director from Sydney, Australia. She will return to take the position of Artistic Director at the Outback Theatre for Young People..
Coming from a cold and dreary country, I had several questions…where do I begin describing my impressions and experiences? First, I'll start with the captivating theatre. Rich in its power to overwhelm the senses, the dynamic colours, rhythms and harmoniously coordinated moves. Substantial in roots and myth, it fascinates me how alive and vital Kattaikkuttu is. People don't just sit and watch it, they own, share and live it. It makes me think of Kattaikkuttu as something delicately woven into the fabric of their psyche, the pattern of their daily lives, interconnected like the fine threads making up an elaborate sari.
From a distance, I can hear the voices of the children ringing from the school, accompanied by rhythmic music. I envy them; ‘I wish I could have gone to a school like this!' The wings of expressive freedom they are given! What a wonderful childhood! They love it, I see them sitting around playing Kuttu during their free time, dancing on stage against the backdrop of an orange sunset. Almost sounds too romantic doesn't it?
Genuinely speaking, the discovery of this school, its theatre and its people, is truly an enriching experience that will continue to inspire me, on a personal as well as professional levels.
Andrea is an Arts Education student from the Netherlands and is developing and delivering a theatre history course as an intern at the Kattaikkuttu Gurukulam.
Bridging the gap
Before going to India, I knew the experience would be intense, but at what point? From France, I looked for a place where music, dance and theatre provided education and happiness. Too idealistic? After browsing on the net I decided to go to the Kattaikkuttu School. I could not imagine how different my life would be at 36 Punjarasantankal Village. Living with the kids in a place surrounded by songs, dance and music. How does a school like that work? How challenging would it be in a place where conservatism and traditionalism are very strong?
Rajagopal and Hanne D.Bruin accepted the challenge and worked hard to introduce modernity step by step within the traditional theatre of Tamil Nadu. I felt secure concerning my professional goal. I taught 26 children modern dance. I wanted them to discover that they could use their body to tell different stories…even modern.
On stage, the children are actors, they perform and they exist. Their identity is reinforced through their characters. Rajagopal and Hanne D.Bruin have both proved that art is strong enough to provide happiness, education and peace in a place where family and tradition rule.
Aurore is a student of political science and anthropology in Paris, France. She also has an extensive background in modern and classical dance.