Research on craft

Research findings and thoughts

Although primarily a performance company, the research element in Adishakti’s activities occupies a large part of it’s daily time and energy; for its primary activity of performance is the by product of such research.

Over the years it has evolved a largely physical craft for feeding the physical, vocal and psychological expression of the actor based on certain Indian knowledges and physical forms like Kalaripayattu the Kerala martial art form, breath practices for psychological expression used in Koodiyattam a form of classical Sanskrit Theatre and the rhythm patterns of music which accompany Koodiyattam performance. Although all these forms are rooted in a specific cultural context Adishakti has endeavored to seek out the fundamental principles underlying these practices to make them applicable to a wide constituency of performers: those from different cultural and aesthetic contexts and from different kinds of contemporary and traditional performance

We at Adishakti believe that Theatre’s inimitable strength is the live, sensorial, presence of the performer. Unlike the actor in cinema, the audience can almost touch, smell, feel, and taste the actor in the theatre.

Since 1983 we have been working to reinvent theatre around this strength and also to enlarge its scope.


Research Towards A Physical Vocabulary:

In 1983 we began working towards creating a performance language, which would enhance the physical presence of the performer on stage by employing a nonfunctional energy.

Many of the traditional forms in India use nonfunctional energy on stage. However although the  performers at Adishakti have learnt various traditional martial forms and performance forms like Kalaripayattu, Kathakali, Koodiyattam and Chhau, we have found it necessary to go beyond their visible, external expression as these forms are too culturally specific and it is difficult to use them as instruments of contemporary expression.

Early on in our investigations we discovered that several performance traditions in India have evolved from the martial arts of the region. The performance form of Kathakali for example, developed from the anterior Kalaripayattu form, a martial art of Kerala.

There are many postures and movements in Kathakkali, which are recognizable as elements from Kalaripayattu. For example the basic stance of Kathakali is very similar to the Kalaripayattu  amarcha/ or the squat position used in fighting with a short stick. The pranamor the movement for ritual worship in Kathakali, is constructed from such movements and stances from Kalaripayattu like the Chadi Keti, the Amarcha, the Hanuman posture, the first leg exercise and the Choriche.

The transformation of these ingredients from a martial art form into the performance form of Kathakkali occurred when a new principle was introduced into the Kalaripayattu form. This new principle was a fixed and unchanging balance axis, a fixed stance and a fixed energy center, which does not exist in Kalaripayattu as the movements of this form have to serve the functional needs of combat.

To test these findings we explored introducing a totally new element into the Kalaripayattu movements to see whether the form would change. We decided to use a different pattern of breath than that normally used in the martial art. The breath energy employed in Kalaripayattu is functional; it tries to meet the needs of combat. We believed that the use of a different kind of breath than a functional one would change the movement of the form.

This decision was determined by our definition of performance energy. In our view performance energy is that in which seventy five percent of the energy is held within the performer and only twenty five percent of it is used for external expression. This inveigles the spectator to be seduced into the performance in search of that hidden seventy five percent of energy. As energy translates into breath we employed this ratio to breath while performing the movements of Kalaripayattu.

The exploration was a success, for we discovered that not only did the movements of Kalaripayattu change but they also revealed the possibility that they could in this manner also communicate significance and were therefore expressive and performative.

Subsequently on the basis of this kind of research we have created our own contemporary language of movement. This language orangika is the most physical aspect of the  form, which gives expressions to our new aesthetic.

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