KATHAKALI was the hero of ‘Kathakali-King Lear’, when it premiered in 1989 in Trivandrum and in Chandigarh on Tuesday, thirty years later, the adaptation of Shakespeare’s King Lear into Kathakali theatre by The Annette Leady-Keli Company, it was Kathakali’s power that moved and mesmerised the audiences all over again.
For directors, Annette Leday and David McRuvie, with the revival of Kathakali-King Lear in India, begins a brand-new journey, one that brings on centre-stage their passion for the dance form and Shakespeare’s most complicated work. Here to perform at Panjab University on the invitation of the Alliance Francaise, the two-hour performance was an ode to the traditional form of Kathakali, with every actor in the production finding his moment under the spotlight and getting a chance to shine.
The last series of performances took place at the Globe Theater in London in July 1999 and the revival brings together five artistes from the first production and also new, young artists. With as many as 15 people part of the production, according to Leday, they strive to bring Kathakali to Shakespeare lovers and vice-versa, as they travel to various cities across India.
Supported by the Kerala government, the performance started with a salute to all those who have contributed to the welfare of those affected by the floods in the state. “Kathakali for me is a powerful genre with so many different aspects like dance, theatre, percussion, make-up making it a complete and powerful form. We decided to take the most complicated play of Shakespeare, which very few have played and adapt it in the explosive form of Kathakali. We from the very start were aware of the necessity to be close to the form,” explains McRuvie, who recalls how 30 years ago they had a chance to work with the masters of the form to create the play.
Staged in nine scenes, Kathakali is the idiom here, with Leday, who has learnt the form for years, agreeing that adapting a western text into this art form was demanding. For the revival, for which they have been rehearsing for over two months now, the length of the play has been reduced, with the frames of the piece very strong and balanced. The storm scene, created by the percussionists takes the tempo to another level. “Re-enacting this production is a lot of work and we have reconstructed the piece to honour the masters.”
McRuvie is quick to point out that the production is not a hybrid or fusion, for it breaks no convention or the spirit of Kathakali, as its impact is concentrated in one production. “There are many dimensions to King Lear and this is an exhilarating and exciting work.”