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Lyrical prose

Karthika Nair. Photo:S. Mahinsha   | Photo Credit: S.MAHINSHA

Karthika Nair is on a high. Desh, a solo dance production by renowned Bangladeshi-British dancer and choreographer Akram Khan, which the poet co-wrote along with the artiste and performance poet Polar Bear, won the Best New Dance Production award at the 2012 Laurence Olivier Awards on April 15.

“We're all thrilled to bits,” gushes Paris-based Karthika, who was in Vellayani visiting her parents when MetroPlus caught up with her after the awards were announced.

Desh (meaning homeland in Bangla) was pitted against some tough competition that included productions, Gardenia, The Metamorphosis, and Some Like It Hip Hop. It was a highly deserved win for Akram, who used his body and voice to embody so many different characters that are familiar to Bangladeshi culture,” adds the poet. The tableaux dance production is “a tribute to Bangladesh,” one that, according to Mark Monahan of The Guardian, is Akram's “attempt to understand his parents' country and thereby make sense of himself.” Adds Karthika: “It's got little autobiographical elements which completely drift into the fictitious stories. And it has stories of people Akram knew or his family knew, which have been taken in other directions.”

For Karthika, who works as a dance producer for Brussels-based dancer-choreographer Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui, and who marks her debut as a stage writer with Desh, the theme seems to be a sort of a homecoming. “I spent quite a few of my formative years in the North East, in Shillong, just across the border from Bangladesh, where my father who was in the army was posted. I was thus aware of the issues related to Bangladeshi independence and pro-democracy movements, when Akram asked me to be a part of the team towards the end of 2010,” says Karthika.

The next year was spent in research and as part of it she even traversed the length and breadth of the country, from Dhaka to Gopalganj, and many other places in between, “experiencing” the stories. “I worked out six broad leitmotifs for Desh, namely, memory, languages, cloth, light, land, and river. We wrote reams and reams of initial stories, which Polar Bear – whose real name is Steven – helped us edit. One thing we all were really clear about was that Desh was primarily a dance production, and the words were simply a tool, serving as raw material for each of the creative collaborators,” says Karthika.

An “unexpected bonus” of writing Desh, was Karthika's story, The Boys, The Bees, and Bonbibi, which is now being published by Young Zubaan as an illustrated children's book. It is a story based on the legend of Bonbibi, a regional Goddess of the Sunderbans, one that is worshipped by Hindus and Muslims alike.

“The story actually started with the theme of language because one day during rehearsals Akram texted me saying that his mother was upset because his nephew, a third generation British Bangladeshi, wasn't learning Bangla. She said something that really struck me; she questioned what her brothers died for in the Bangladeshi war of independence. After all, Bangladesh was created out of a desire for linguistic and cultural autonomy.

Question of identity

“Akram and I were moved by this question of identity faced by immigrants. How much do you keep of what is inherently yours and how much do you give away or abandon in the effort to belong? How do you find that median between handing it over and making sure that your children are not alienated? We wanted to resolve this issue. So the story becomes a sort of a password into a magical kingdom which the nephew (the niece in Desh) can access only by learning Bangla,” explains Karthika, who has also been approached by French composer Pierre Thilloy to write the story in lyrics so that he can adapt it into a children's musical.

Meanwhile, on the poetic front, Karthika is working on a new collection of poems for Harper Collins India – one that's been a long time coming after debuting her poetry collection, Bearings, in 2009. “The new collection is a reworking of the Mahabharata in verse; focussing more on the voices you don't hear such as Hidumbi, Gandhari, Uthara, Ekalavya and Amba/Shikandi. It's more about looking at various episodes and events through their eyes. I am scheduled to hand over the manuscript by the end of the year. Also an actor with Tara Arts troupe in London has asked me to write a play for her. I will have to adapt a central section of the new book for the play,” says Karthika. Her journey with words continues.

Team effort

T he Laurence Olivier awards, presented by Society of London Theatre, and named after British actor Laurence Olivier, are one of the most prestigious awards that celebrate excellence in professional theatre. This year's awards were presented on April 15 at the Royal Opera House in London. Apart from Akram Khan, Karthika, and Polar Bear, designer Tim Yip (whose art direction for Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon won him an Oscar and two BAFTA awards in 2001), composer Jocelyn Pook, and lighting designer Michael Hulls (both past winners of the Olivier awards), were also part of the Desh team.


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Printable version | Nov 23, 2021 9:44:33 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/features/metroplus/lyrical-prose/article3331954.ece

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