Five women who have never performed for an audience, a Greek myth re-imagined, a redefining of what we take for granted and its consequences.
Miranda Lakerveld, stage director for opera and music-theatre, who is in the city to conduct a theatre workshop for residents of The Banyan, a mental health NGO working with the underprivileged, is not just drawing universal symbols from the timeless myth of Daphne and Apollo, but also experimenting with how emotions of the women can be turned into a movement.
The residents of the NGO and Bharatanatyam artistes from Sahrdaya Foundation will perform on Saturday as part of a session on ‘Metamorphoses: mental illness and the arts’ at Dakshinachitra.
Miranda, who has been fusing classical European opera with artistic practices from around the world, affirms she came here as an artiste and not a therapist. She is also exploring comparative mythology and psychology as part of her work.
The story revolves around Daphne, who is transformed into a tree by her father, to turn away Apollo, the god of sun and music, who is in love with her. She wants to remain unmarried and worship goddess Diana. The tree, in this narrative, becomes a banyan, and the goddess, Kali.
“Though the story is not from here, the women relate to the symbols, which are universal,” says Miranda.
Towards the end of a practise session on Thursday, the performers huddle together and Miranda throws the floor open. What do they think of the protagonist turning into a tree? One of the women says remaining as a tree would mean being solitary, devoid of companionship. Another equates the tree to a goddess and calls it sacred. “Each one interprets it differently,” says Miranda, who has held workshops for the staff and residents of The Banyan, earlier in 2013, as well.
Akhila Ramnarayan, theatre actor and writer, who is also part of the performance, says Miranda levels the playing field and there is no distinction between the NGO’s residents and the artistes. “There is so much empathy in that room. If art cannot transform the artiste, it cannot transform the audience,” she says.
Gheerthiga Subramaniam, one of the dancers, says the women bring so much honesty and spontaneity to the performance that she is responding to them, more than concentrating on technique.
What is going to be staged on Saturday is really a sketch, says Miranda. “As an artiste, it is quite liberating to invite the audience before the piece is complete, to let them be a part of the process,” she says.