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Contemproary Dance in a Deadlock

Renowned Canadian contemporary dance choreographer RICHARD TREMBLAY, in the making of his new work, was recently in India under a project of the Shastri Indo-Canadian Institute, Canada.

Constantly in search of inspiration beyond the prevailing theatre forms of the West, Richard Tremblay first came to Delhi in 1975 to present one of his plays at the National School of Drama. On that special occasion, Tremblay was strongly advised by Ebrahim Alkazi, then Director of the National School of Drama, to get acquainted with Kathakali. That was also the time he was studying yoga at Rishikesh. Soon afterwards, Tremblay went to Kerala Kalamandalam for practical training. The other side of the story is that the play he performed in Delhi with his eight-member company earned him an invitation to participate in the Baltimore New Theatre Festival, which made him internationally known.

The Indian influence

“It was my urge to know about Indian culture, and to make acquaintance with pristine art forms that brought me here. To some extent, there was the incitement of a trend in the Western theatre circles to going East”, says the Montreal based choreographer. Richard Tremblay learned acting when he was 18, “as a trainee with an amateur theatre group”. His early theatre work came during the late 1960s while he was teaching in high school and college. “I resigned from the teaching post in 1970, to concentrate better on my creation. I came to be known by directing Ionesco, Becket, and Genet’s plays, which I interweaved with elements of the Greek classical tragedy – to me what is known as the “absurd theatre” is tragedy. My plays were very physical, and included body movements.” Eclectic in his training and experience, he believes that creation needs a broad cultural outlook and knowledge, as much as possible.

“It was a performance of Kalamandalam Gopi that inspired me to get into the intricate aesthetics of Kathakali. I had a strong belief in the authenticity of his acting and his overwhelming sense of tragedy and poetry. This led me to the creation of the work that came to be known as The Anger

of Achilles or The Iliad (1988), my Kathakali version of Homer’s Iliad.” Tremblay created this masterwork in Kathakali in collaboration with Kerala Kalamandalam. In addition to performances in Kerala, The Iliad was successfully premiered in Mumbai (1991), and by his dance company, Danse Kalashas, in Singapore (2000). This and further works, including Ulysses (1991-92), the Kathakali story of Homer’s Odyssey, and The Golden Fleece (on the cards) are part of the choreographer’s Kathakali works which draw on Greek epics and the tragedy of the Western antiquity. “I believe that, at the very basis of his dance experience, a dancer needs training in a comprehensive dance system. Any such training, in any classical dance form, is central in one’s artistic build-up, as it does awaken your inner dance intuitions. Kathakali has provided me with all of it”, Tremblay says.

His intense rapport with India has considerably influenced his contemporary dance. Following an

invitation by Odile Duboc’s Centres Chorégraphique, France, to participatein a residency, he choreographed In Himalayas; Prayer for a Rope, a Pope, and a Rogue (2003), withsix dancers and four musicians, tomusic by Bruno Paquet, and lightsdesigning and scenography by one

of Peter Brook’s close associates, Jean-Guy Lecat. Figuring on the list of his remarkable contemporary dances are Snowflake Curves (1995), Heaps of Percolation (1993), Paradox

of the Burning Sky (1992), The Attractor of Ezhikode (1991), Of Mice and Other Devices (1990), and

Indra (1986). He usually does not perform in his works, yet he did in his most recent creation, Jil Et

Yield (2004-05). “I enjoy the greater freedom that the contemporary dance offers to the choreographer. Contemporary dance is implicit in a choreographer’s vision”, he reflects.

Cases of point in Indian dance

 “In my opinion, Chandralekha wasa world figure in that she challengedthe form and, more importantly,those values in society that hurtthe freedom of individuals in theachievement of their potential.

Again, my assumption is that the Indian choreographers follow the same path, that is, from classical

to contemporary. Perhaps the only difference lies in the very definition of what exactly is contemporary dance.” After training in Kathakali (1975-81), Tremblay joined the University

of Montreal for the Ph.D. of Linguistics (Phonology), and completed the programme of studies

(1981-84). “Usually, choreographers are not trained to choreograph; they gain recognition through their work and from their peers. With increased work experience and reflection, one develops a vision, which builds up, work after work,” opines Tremblay reminiscing on his artistic career.

Transition as an artistic director

“At some point in a choreographer’s development, it becomes necessary to hold a basic organisation

which could produce, present, and disseminate his or her dance. Such companies, known as “creation” companies in the West, are subsidised in order to meet very specific objectives in terms of choreographic development. The Centres Chorégraphiques, France is particularly ahead of many a country in this respect. It is a choreographer’s dream to direct at one of those centres – which means one has a space for work, and incredible support to create as much as he/she wants to. In the process the transition to artistic direction is self-evident; such was my case and there are all sorts of dynamics at work”, explains Tremblay.

On contemporary dance

Reviewing the present day status of both Indian and international contemporary dance, Tremblay opines that contemporary dance is in a deadlock, due to rigid canonsand some established perceptions. “I feel that, in the West, the future of dance could be fading, through artistic reinterpretation, with works deriving from the highly acrobatic street dance. Such forms have a

strong impact on the young generation which holds the future of the dance.

In his opinion, India probably moves in the same direction, “except that the identity values here come differently into play, that is, with reference to existing forms, which function as an affirmation of one’s “Indianity”. In India, for one reason  or the other, the form still prevails over the work, and I should say it would remain so as a tendency. But in art forms, reinterpretation is always waiting round the corner, and who knows what it has in store?”

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