Kathakali artiste Isa Jacobi performs ‘Kalyanasougandhikam' tomorrow

When Isa Jacobi decided to learn Kathakali she knew that only art could cross borders, languages and cultures. A dancer and theatre artiste from Berlin, Germany, Isa has been visiting Kerala regularly for over a decade now. First as a tourist and then, as an ardent disciple of the art. And now, she visits the city twice a year, staying in Kovalam whenever she is here, perfecting her technique.

When she first watched a Kathakali performance in Italy several decades ago, it opened up a new world filled with surprises, says Isa. At that time, she didn't think this dance form would become part of her life. Isa studied Jazz and then pursued classical ballet. She then turned to teaching dance in Germany. It was a path quite removed from that of Kathakali.

Journey of discovery

It was in 1997 that she received an invitation from Kalamandalam Gopi to visit Kerala on the occasion of his 60th birthday. Kathakali still fascinated her and Isa decided to become its student.

She obtained a scholarship from the Indian Council of Cultural Relations (ICCR) and studied the dance at Margi, from 2002 to 2006. Isa has, till now, learnt under Kalamandalam Subramaniam and Margi Suresh.

This journey of discovery and learning has also made Isa more sensitive and aware of some of the challenges. In Germany, where she performs from time to time, Kathakali is perceived as a “male dance,” she says.

This prejudice frustrates her but it doesn't deter her from pursuing her interest, Isa quickly adds.

She also hopes she will be able to popularise Kathakali in her country.

During her performances in Germany, Isa translates the meaning of a padam into German, helping the audience understand the context of the dance.

Though Isa's own attempts at learning Malayalam and Sanskrit remain unfulfilled, she hasn't given up hope.

However, when Isa dons the role of Ravana like she did in 2006 or that of Bhima from ‘Kalyanasougandhikam,' all challenges are overcome and all barriers crossed.

In fact, when one sees her animatedly explaining the weight and grandeur of the costume, it is easy to imagine her on stage, completely transforming into an all-consuming and powerful persona.

So, how does it feel for a woman to play a man's part? “It's great and not so difficult,” smiles Isa. “In real life, women are much stronger than men, so it's easy,” she adds. And Bhima is a character Isa likes to portray.

Isa will perform ‘Kalyanasougandhikam' on Friday, March 5 at 7 p.m. at Gandhi Park. The performance is being organised by Goethe Zentrum.