Alliance Francaise of Madras' renovated auditorium opened with some striking performances
Space. Near impossible to find in the city, especially some that's acquiescent to art. So, it is with open arms that we welcome Alliance Française of Madras' renovated auditorium.
To inaugurate it came Laurent Decol, a renowned mime from France. A student of the great Marcel Marceau, Decol's ‘Les Mots du Silence' (The Words of Silence), was an outlandishly appropriate opening to the hall.
He began, still and meditative, reminiscent of Auguste Rodin's ‘The Thinker'. He became a pastor, a sword-swallower, a weightlifter, a cleaner, a rock guitarist, an old woman, a young man. He took a dog out for a walk, sold ice-creams, got beaten up, snarled at a baby (and a real one expressed indignation from the audience), kissed his lover, and sold so many balloons that he floated away just a little. Much like our imaginations.
The sketches veered between the grittily real — everything you'd see if you walked down the street, and the strange, the surreal — he threaded a needle with a hair, and stitched up his face and hands.
His greatest success was his contemptuously acidic predilection towards society — including the audience, raising one icy eyebrow every time it burst into wild applause. A brilliantly misanthropic, nihilistic commentary on the meaninglessness of life. His closing piece was a play on what The Beatles once put so elegantly as ‘Eleanor Rigby …wearing the face that she keeps in a jar by the door' — he switches easily between masks at first — but then finds it increasingly harder to tell his real self from his pretences.
One only wished he hadn't chosen to play it rather safe — there was clearly much more bizarre brilliance that could have come from Decol.
The mime was followed by a concert by MassalaBossa, a Chennai-based band that plays jazz and bossa nova, along with their originals. Betty Jardin, Neil Mukherjee, Allwyn Jeya Paul and Naveen Kumar began with slow, smooth jazz, following it up with their original compositions in Bengali.
As we listen, we can see that the floor, the spectators' gallery, the roof, the electrical equipment, the stage space and the sound system of the auditorium have been redone – it can now accommodate up to 150 people. But the most significant aspect is what they capture in essentially two words- “no curtain”. As they go onto explain - “There is no distinct material separation between the space and the audience. There is a continuity.”
As there must be, between the arts and us all.
Keywords: Alliance Francaise of Madras