Theatre

High on emotions

Chitra Krishnamurti (behind) and Kosha Parekh as Anne and Helen Keller. Photo: G. Moorthy  

Clad in black and bright coloured costume, barefoot dancers filled the stage with graceful and delicate movements. The Odissi dance styled multimedia multicultural dance drama on the “Life and Works of Helen Keller” with a sterling performance kept the audience enthralled.

The dance drama, organised by Aravind Eye Hospital, Madurai, was choreographed and directed by Chitra Krishnamurti, founder-director, Nrityalaya, the U.S.-based School of Indian Classical Dance. Interspersed with commentaries by Krishnamurti, the performance was indeed a rich tribute celebrating and honouring the remarkable life and works of Helen Keller.

Helen Keller, whose name is synonymous with courage, personified intelligence and hard work, overcoming extreme disabilities dedicated her life to the empowerment of the deaf and blind. The performance started with a traditional Odissi dance with so much of grace by the Nrityalaya students. Starting from Helen Keller’s birth and how sudden onset of fever took her vision and hearing the multimedia performance coupled with means of self-expression or abhinaya, an aspect of Odissi and a fusion of many of western dances enthralled the audience for close to two hours.

Kosha Parekh as the young Helen Keller, a temperamental and frustrated child unable to communicate, did a splendid job. Helen’s friendship with the daughter of her family’s cook and her aggravated sense of discomfort which get reflected in her poor table manners were put to perfection.

The third scene, “Arrival of the Teacher,” portrayed the most significant aspect of Helen’s life as it not only changed her life forever but also glorified the teacher-student relationship. In 1886, Helen’s mother came to know through Alexander Graham Bell about the Perkins School and the successful education of a deaf and blind child. She then decided to seek help for Helen and thus came into contact with teacher Anne Sullivan, who became Helen’s instructor and friend for the next 49 years.

Chitra Krishnamurti, as Anne Sullivan came out with a powerful and emotional performance, depicting a woman who with dedication and confidence brought about a change in the life of Helen Keller.

‘The Miracle’ brought to light the phenomenal changes in Helen’s life, courtesy, the selfless Anne and Helen’s capacity to learn things swiftly. The performance highlighted Anne’s efforts to teach Helen letters by signing in her palm. The hand pump experience, where Helen learns through touch and experience and the written alphabets of water was beautifully performed.

Anne teaches Helen many things outside of the classroom. She teaches her to touch, smell, and experience nature. She wants Helen to be curious, ask questions, and to discover the world around her. ‘Helen’s Imagination at Work’ was a breathtaking performance by the dancers, who through Odissi brought out different times of day, dawn, noon, dusk and night, blending it with Helen’s learning experiences traversing the times.

The Graduation Scene was the most emotional part of the dance drama. Helen, the first American deaf and blind person to graduate from Radcliffe College, dedicates the degree to Anne. She then becomes a prolific author, anti-war campaigner and spokeswoman for women’s rights. Her association with modern dancer Martha Graham is also depicted through a dance performance where she at her studio comes to know what jumping is all about when Martha helps her to jump. Later she exclaims: “Jumping… how like thought and how like mind it is…”

Everywhere Helen goes, barriers and obstacles that faced the blind come tumbling down. Her boundless determination and her example of what a person with disabilities can accomplish help change laws and create programmes for those who are visually impaired.

Medley of Dances

The remaining part was indeed a unique performance which featured various dance forms and was selected among her travel to 39 countries. Dancers performed the Gum boots dance of South African Mine workers, fololwed by Japanese dance, British dance and the Spanish Flamenco dance. The show ended with India’s colourful Dandiya dance.

Talking to The Hindu after the performance, Chitra Krishnamurti and Mr. Krishnamurti said that the idea evolved from the fact that nobody knew what Helen imagined as she did not communicate in any language and it was a tribute to a person who inspired millions through her confidence. Chitra explained that Helen’s relationship could be likened to that of a guru and sishya. “We are happy with these efforts as cultural ambassadors,” the couple said.

Chitra Krishnamurti, Kosha Parekh, Neeraja Balachander (as grown up Helen Keller), Anjana Mohanty, Aditi Kolhekar, Manasi Mistry, Suchari Ghosh and Neha Agarwal did a great job. Earlier in the day, P. Namperumalsamy, Chairman, Aravind Eye Hospital, introduced Chitra Krishnamurthi to the audience.

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Printable version | Mar 4, 2021 2:48:03 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/features/friday-review/theatre/High-on-emotions/article15517966.ece

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