Rigour needs to come back to theatre

Yuki Ellias, whose Yatagarasu is to be staged at The Hindu Theatre Fest 2016, on the freedom the stage affords

Updated - September 22, 2016 05:24 pm IST

Published - August 08, 2016 06:30 pm IST - CHENNAI

Yuki Ellias, Director of Yatagarasu

Yuki Ellias, Director of Yatagarasu

When Yuki Ellias was invited to be movement director for Tim Supple’s 2007 opera The Magic Flute , she decided to choreograph a chorus of 60 men in a comedic dance. She drew on her training in commedia dell’arte, Italian mask theatre, as the opera was influenced by the theatre form’s larger-than-life characters. The men were sceptical and the chorus director was upset, she recalls. “He said, ‘But, how can you do this to Mozart!’” The audience received the sequence with hearty applause, and the chorus returned to tell her they’d received such praise for singing, but never for dancing. Moving the body in completely different ways from “how you’re meant to be as an ordinary person” is exactly the lure of acting for Ellias. While she has worked in films ( Love You to Death directed by Rafeeq Ellias, her father) and hopes to direct one someday, Ellias finds theatre liberating because of the freedom it gives her to visualise a work. “Just plain reality would be boring. So, I like transposing reality,” she says. “And, because there’s no money in theatre, we have the freedom to tell any story we like and for whatever reason.”

Yatagarasu, Ellias’s new play set in a classroom,fuses movement with much hilarity. Unlike her previous plays Charge , a sci-fi absurd comedy on our obsession with technology, and Dying to Succeed, a solo show on Shakespearean characters in the corporate world, Yatagarasu partly grew out of her desire to create a stylised work with dancers. The pieceuses theatre, music, and playfulness to explore the hurdles of school life, such as bullying, dyslexia, and a crummy body image.

It was enrolling at Paris’ L’École Internationale de Théâtre Jacques Lecoq in 2003 that shaped Ellias’ repertoire of skills and her outlook to theatre. “All the pictures {in the website} looked nothing like {the theatre} I’d done in Mumbai; they were wearing masks and clown noses and it looked like so much more fun.” The renowned school was her introduction to movement-based theatre, through forms such as mime, melodrama and commedia dell’arte clowning. “We have the possibility to be freaks in the body, in the voice, and you can control your dosage… and being a freak is a lot more fun!” she says.

Ellias went on to act in Tim Supple’s 2006 multi-linguistic adaptation of Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream, which she toured with internationally for three years. On her return to Mumbai, she found actors doing similar training in physical theatre, and a chance to do fresh work.

One of her biggest lessons at theatre school was the art of creating a piece of work as an actor. Before Paris, Ellias was “doing a particular kind of English theatre where the actor’s role was to execute a director’s vision”. “Some directors are able to create instinctively; education taught me how to construct work and transpose an idea on to the floor.” Armed with a degree in the pedagogy of Jacques Lecoq’s theatre at the London International School of Performing Arts, Ellias returned to help set up The Drama School Mumbai, an intensive training programme in acting and creating theatre. “Rigour really needs to come back to theatre,” she says, adding that the school emphasises working hard on the body, the voice, and scene work, and having a roster of teachers with different skill sets and approaches. After Yatagarasu, Ellias’ foray into the world of children will take a new turn with Elephant in the Room ,slotted for September, about a boy who is conflicted about having the head of a pachyderm.

More details
Yatagarasu will be staged by J Productions and Dur Se Brothers on August 20, 7 p.m. at Sir Mutha Venkatasubba Rao Concert Hall. Tickets are priced at Rs. 600, Rs. 400 and Rs. 250

The Hindu Theatre Fest 2016

The Title Sponsor of the event is YES BANK. The Associate Sponsors are Kauvery Hospital, Hindustan International School and Telangana Tourism. The Hospitality Partner is Taj Coromandel. The Mall Partner is Phoenix Market City (Chennai). The Mobility Partner is Ola. The gift partner is Terra Earthfood. The Radio Partner is Chennai Live 104.8. The Merchandise Partner is Focus Art Gallery and the Event Manager is evam.

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