New play interprets Shakespeare through Contemporary dance and gibberish

Updated: Jan 05, 2017, 13:52 IST | Suprita Mitter |

Atul Kumar’s new play will interpret William Shakespeare through Contemporary dance and gibberish

A scene from Khwaab Sa from their premiere in Taiwan
A scene from Khwaab Sa from their premiere in Taiwan

When we stepped into a rehearsal studio in Andheri, recently, Anamika Tiwari (who plays Titania) and Gagandev Singh Riar (who essays Oberon) in Khwaab-Sa, an adaptation of Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream, were locked in a passionate scene. Entangled in an embrace, their dialogues in The Company Theatre’s latest production, sounded a lot like Bhojpuri to us. When we whispered to director Atul Kumar, asking him if his new play was in a regional language, he nodded in the negative. “It’s gibberish,” he said, flashing a knowing smile. “ We have used phonetic impressions of various North Indian languages and invented our own language. If you listen to it you might think it’s a dialect, but it’s nonsense. We manage to communicate with gestures,” he said.

Anamika Tiwari and Gagandev Singh Riar rehearsing a scene. Pic/Nimesh Dave
Anamika Tiwari and Gagandev Singh Riar rehearsing a scene. Pic/Nimesh Dave

Taiwan to Mumbai
The play — a mix of Contemporary dance, Hindi gibberish and live Contemporary World Music performed by artistes from all over India — was commissioned by Kham Theatre in Taipei, Taiwan. After opening there in October, the play is now ready to premiere in India with a run in Bengaluru, Delhi, Mumbai, Lucknow and Pune, in January. “We have changed about 30 per cent of the content that the play opened with, including the music, dance sequences and costumes. An actor had to be replaced, too,” revealed Kumar, adding, “It was a luxury that usually theatre companies don’t have. I am glad we could afford to do it.”

Atul Kumar
Atul Kumar

Kumar’s earlier play Piya Behrupiya, an adaptation of Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night, (2012) featuring live Folk music, opened in London and turned out to be a commercial success. “I like Folk music but doing a musical like Piya Behrupiya was an experiment that worked commercially. However, I can do commercial elsewhere. That’s not why I do theatre. I will experiment. It’s a coincidence that this is a Shakespeare play too,” shared 48-year-old Kumar who has received basic training in Kathakali and Kalaripayattu in Kerala for over three years, as well as a stint with the master of visual theatre, Philippe Genty, in France.

Modern take
“I wanted to work with Contemporary dance and that was my trigger point and my opening inspiration. I will explore it for a bit and this play is my first one in that attempt. There is live music this time too, but it’s Western as opposed to Folk. There are drums and electronic music. There are also percussion instruments from around the world. We will use the sarangi and tabla for an Indian tone along with Electronic sampling of sounds from acoustic to everyday sounds and looping it. It’s an experiment I am trying for the first time,” he said as the actors readied to rehearse the next scene.

While he corrected the nuances in the tone of the dialogue, we noticed that Kumar creates a scene along with the actor. We watched as an actor made a suggestion and the scene suddenly has a brand new interpretation. “We are sticking to the original play. We have interpreted it though. The main lover’s track in the play doesn’t uses his lines at all, as it’s communicated through dance. The choreographer, Diya Naidu, is able to conceive parallels from words to gesture,” shared Kumar. The sets are simple but execution is elaborate. “Things keep appearing and disappearing as the imagery and movement is dream like. It has to work in different theaters which is the biggest challenge since we are travelling quite a bit with the play ,” he explained.

The play was conceptualised and rehearsed at TCT’s artist residency in Kamshet. As we watched the rehearsals in Andheri, the dancers of the play rehearsed in Bengaluru. “We held open auditions in multiple cities and chose Attakkalari from Bengaluru,” says Kumar adding that working with dancers has been a creative learning for him.

“Dancers work differently. There’s a strict discipline they follow and they also rehearse a lot more than theatre people. They are not very social as opposed to theatre people who hang out, drink and gossip together. They are more focussed on their work. The ethos, ethics and language are different too. I’m surprised every day while working with them. Their interpretations are great since the style is contemporary and there is no fixed narrative. Sometimes, it’s difficult to merge the two worlds,” shared Kumar, before excusing himself to work on a soundtrack with one of the musicians.

On: January 28 and 29, 7.30 pm
At: Balgandharva Rangmandir, St Theresa Road, Bandra (W)
Call: 9892585856

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