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Funding a Parisian residency

Despite the sliver of publicity, a theatre workshop that took place in Puducherry a little more than a year ago attracted more than a hundred participants from across India and beyond. The immense word of mouth was most likely because of the name attached to the workshop, that of illustrious French stage director Ariane Mnouchkine, who founded the Parisian avant-garde stage ensemble Théâtre du Soleil in 1964. They were touring India to research their new production, Une Chambre En Inde (A Room in India), that opened in Paris in December last year. According to dance critic Laura Cappelle, it was “a sprawling affair, by turns dynamic and chaotic, naive and stirring”. Its meta-theatrical tropes situated it squarely in an India where a troupe of French actors finds itself unhappily stranded. The play makes use of the folk theatre form, the ‘ theru koothu ’, with scenes from the Mahabharata played out in traditional costumes.

Mnouchkine’s host in India was her one-time protégé Koumarane Valavane and his Indianostrum Theatre, an offbeat outfit that has its home in a refurbished art-house cinema in Puducherry, once known as the Salle Jeanne d’Arc. It is a languid abode that has seen the creation of some of the group’s signature productions: Kunti Karna , Karuppu and the Land of Ashes trilogy. These works are characterised by a corporeal rigor drawn from the physicality of traditional forms like kalaripayattu, juxtaposed against contemporary texts, with a distinctive French inflection. Kunti Karna , for instance, is adapted from texts by Rabindranath Tagore and Jean-Claude Carrière.

After Mnouchkine’s successful Indian sojourn, Valavane’s troupe has been invited to Paris for a residency of close to seven weeks, commencing April 19. Their repertoire will be staged at Théâtre du Soleil’s famed venue, La Cartoucherie, a former munitions factory in eastern Paris. The space is anachronistic in many ways, due to “its utopian ethos, honed in the 1960s”, writes Cappelle. “All members are paid the same salary, while Mnouchkine, 77, still checks tickets at the door and makes pre-show announcements herself”. La Cartoucherie’s wartime antecedents are sure to serve the plays of the Land of Ashes trilogy well, set as they are against a backdrop of civil strife and turmoil in Sri Lanka. The third instalment, One Third, opened last month.

As with most ambitious undertakings, this enterprise too comes with a price tag. The tour cost itself has been arranged for by the good offices of Théâtre du Soleil and a few friends. The logistical costs for mounting a tour effectively consisting of five productions, even with a team size of just nine actors and a musician, are not inconsiderable. Extensive rehearsals have been planned, including sessions in kalaripayattu and aerial skills. Jean-Jacques Lemêtre, the composer of all of Mnouchkine’s productions, will be at hand for an interaction with the team. The meeting is aimed at allowing the actors to construct improvised musical instruments to use in their performances. To make ends meet, Indianostrum have flagged off a fundraising campaign on online platform Ketto, which will end in a little over a week, but has only raised about 10% of its Rs. 8,00,000 goal, although such endeavours typically raise maximum funds only inches from the finishing line.

This tour is certainly momentous, as it marks ten years since the inception of Indianostrum Theatre. For the sake of Valavane’s brand of relentlessly committed theatre, one can only hope for a victory lap that is not without its deserved trappings.

The writer is a playwright and stage critic

Indianostrum Theatre’s fundraising appeal for their performance tour to Paris can be supported at ketto.org/fundraiser/indianostrum


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Printable version | May 24, 2022 12:22:28 am | https://www.thehindu.com/entertainment/theatre/Funding-a-Parisian-residency/article17205860.ece