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In 2005, Adishakti applied to the India Foundation for the Arts for aPerformance Grant, under its new Performance Grant Programme, towards the production of its new work The Hare and the Tortoise. It was this Grant that made our research and work towards the production possible.
In 1996 Eugenio Barba, the director of the Odin Teatret, Holstebro, Denmark wrote to Veenapani Chawla, lamenting that “…in Europe theatre is dying like the epidemic.”
We felt that in India too, both contemporary and traditional theatre are facing a decline.
The threat is to the form. The theatre is doing poorly because cinema is able to do everything theatre does, much better. It has the reach, (and therefore the political correctness) the technological resources and commercial validity, which theatre does not. It is the Art of the times. And it seems to have made theatre redundant.
The crucial difference between Cinema and Theatre, both of which employ a plurality of perceptual arts to act as signifiers, is that in Theatre the only reality is the live presence of the actor while Cinema accommodates every other reality except that of Presence.
At one level therefore the work of Adishakti was aimed at re-establishing the validity of theatre around this notion of the live presence of the performer. The aim: to equip the performer with tools whereby she could impact her audience through an enhanced and vibrating energy, both physically and psychologically.
At another level Adishakti worked towards widening the scope of theatre. Of trying to make it do more than it has been doing so far or making it evolve beyond what it has been doing so far. This becomes possible because we see it as a summative art, an art inclusive of all the other arts.
Additionally the contemporary mind is not satisfied by an aesthetic which is mono thematic as it can take in more viewpoints than one – even contrary ones – at the same time. And if live performance has to remain valid as an art form, it must reflect the simultaneity of this multiple-sightedness, through the very form and structure of the expression. We proposed that this could best be done by employing as many modes of expression as possible to act as texts or as signifiers. And each one of these must be employed not as a support or illustration of each other, but as a particular experience of the central conceit from different psychological perspectives.
Through The Hare and the Tortoise, Adishakti proposed to explore live performance with shadow puppetry in theatre. The visuals and images that Puppetry can convey have a very different quality from that of live performance. The body of the performer can communicate abstract visuals while puppet imagery can be more illustrative. In this work, we explored juxtaposing these two different ways of imaging.
A significant reason for our turning to shadow puppetry was that Adishakti had adopted one such artist in 2004. Rajappan belonged to the ninth generation of a family of puppeteers who came out of Tanjore, and was the last in that line. We had also been then working with film-maker Soudhamini, and that interaction influenced our dealing with the screen. For the production, we also engaged with a mathematician so as to be able to translate certain principles, which convey the concept of the finite and the infinite (integral to the content) through rhythm and dance.
The script, though predominantly in English, also contained Tamil, Malayalam, and Bombaiya Hindi elements, which emerged from the improvisation process and were incorporated into the performance.
To know more about The Hare and the Tortoise, please click here.