Cleopatra in Kathakali avatar at Auroville show tomorrow

Over several years of engaging with the bounded realm of cross-cultural theatre, as performer, choreographer and researcher, Kathakali exponent Prabal Gupta has evolved a repertoire of solo acts in the classical dance-drama form of Kerala.

On Saturday, Prabal’s ‘Cleopatra’, a Kathakali adaptation of William Shakespeare’s ‘Anthony and Cleopatra’, will be performed at the Sri Aurobindo auditorium in Auroville as part of the golden jubilee fete of the Bharat Nivas, the India Pavilion in the international township. The performance starts at 8 p.m.

While there have been quite a few successful Kathakali adaptations of Shakespeare in the past, from King Lear to Othello, Prabal Gupta is blazing a new trail with his Kathakali adaptations centred on solo female protagonists.

‘Cleopatra’, will be a one-hour performance that encapsulates what the artiste described as “long hours of research, out-of-the-box forays beyond the boundaries of convention and improvisations on the choreography elements without compromising the traditional core”.

The performance, which will be enacted through six scenes, will follow a theatrical style that is heavily movement-oriented and very different from a typical Kathakali act, he said.

Prabal, who is a disciple of Kathakali stalwart Sadanam P.V. Balakrishnan, and specialises in the ‘sthree vesham’ (portrayal of women characters), has used the Koodiyattam snakehood-like headgear for the character instead of a Kathakali head dress, “as the character is no less than a fabled Egyptian pharaoh”, and using pre-recorded rendering of padams (verse musically rendered in the sopanam style of music that evolved from temples in Kerala).

Prabal had debuted his ‘Cleopatra’ in 2016 to mark the 15th anniversary as Kathakali artiste though his first tryst with Shakespeare was in 2014 with a Kathakali adaptation of Lady Macbeth.

The exponent could not have asked for a better guru than Sadanam Balakrishnan, who has been helping shape the ‘attakatha’, or the traditional narrative for the dance-drama enactment, the choice of costumery or the ragas for the padams.

Sadanam Balakrishnan epitomises the fine balance between purist and improviser whose inter-cultural creations, from the adaptations on Shakespeare’s ‘Othello’ to ‘Euripedes’ ‘The Bacchae’ and ‘Helen’ have won critical acclaim.

Prabal, who is based in Bengaluru, says that the creative process behind these solo acts were driven by a host of factors, including the low lump sum for a show that makes it impossible to perform as an ensemble of artistes, make-up experts, vocalists and percussionists, the organisers’ whim on the ideal duration of performance and the shrinking attention span of the modern audience.

Trying to perform Kathakali outside Kerala, where there still is a small but loyal network of patrons, is a real challenge. Getting an opportunity is rare enough, but then begin various demands such as restricting the number of troupe members or shortening the duration of the performance, he said.

He has encountered similar issues whether the performance call comes from low-profile organisers or big ticket hosts. Prabal is an empanelled artiste with the Indian Council for Cultural Relations and was conferred “Outstanding Citizen of New York” civilian award by the Council of New York after a performance coinciding with the 70th anniversary of India’s Independence in 2017.

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Printable version | Jan 26, 2022 11:52:31 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/news/cities/puducherry/cleopatra-in-kathakali-avatar-at-auroville-show-tomorrow/article37813719.ece

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