Saturday, January 8, 2011

Multi-ethnic dance drama in India explores life, work of Helen Keller

From The Pioneer in India:

Odissi dancer Chitra Krishnamurti staged a multi-ethnic dance drama, The Life and Works of Helen Keller, that was successful in portraying the struggle of a deaf and blind person.

From darkness to light and from hush to clamour,” these words best describe the life of Helen Keller. And when her journey came alive in dance-drama, the audience were enthralled. Those who themselves are facing a similar problem, get inspired to lead a life of dignity. All this what motivated Odissi dancer Chitra Krishnamurti to come up with a multi-ethnic dance drama The Life and Works of Helen Keller.

“I don’t think there can be a better way to tell the story of Keller as being deaf and blind she must be conveying her feelings through gestures. And even in this dance drama we are using abhinaya that is a characteristic feature of dance to show her life,” says Krishnamurti, director of the US-based school of Indian classical dance, Nritalaya.

The drama depicted the life of Helen Keller with a combination of Odissi, folk and cultural dances of other countries. “We premiered the show in Washington for the first time last year. After getting a thought-provoking response, I decided to show it in India,” she says.

Helen Adams Keller was an American author, political activist and lecturer. She was the first deaf blind person to earn a graduation degree. The drama is a story of how Keller’s teacher, Anne Sullivan helped and guided her, to achieve success in life. All her work and life has been shown through a 1 hour 45 minute dance drama directed by Chitra Krishnamurti.

The drama started with an invocation dance performed on traditional Odissi music. “The purpose is to show the beginning of her life when she was a child, living in the age of darkness and silence. She was a naughty child but at the same time her handicap frustrated her. We try and show this irritation,” explains the director.

The second part Arrival Teacher highlights the problem of Keller as a child and her feelings being deaf and blind and the importance of teacher in her life. “Looking at her frustration and disappointment, her parents realise the problem and then she comes in contact with her teacher, played by me,” describes Krishnamurti. Each scene aptly describes the feelings of Keller and moves with a wonderful combination of dance, drama and rhythmic music. As the third scene called Miracle Scene shows the keenness of Keller to know about this world and achieve success. This is a stage when her teacher guides Keller, and her dependence on him increases. With hand gestures and facial expressions the conversation, without uttering a single word, goes on between the two artists.

The next scene, Imagination Scene shows the enthusiasm and excitement in the life of Keller and how she understands the meaning of words and this leads to her achievement of getting admission into Radcliffe college in Boxton for Graduation.

The entire scene is shown through dance and a DVD that shows the actual picture of Helen Keller and her teacher. “It is not an easy task for her but she she moves on with determination to achieve success,” reveals the director. Each scene is well described by a narrator Krishna Murti through slide show.

The most interesting part comes when all the performers, in varied attires, join to show the journey or travels of Keller around the world. “We use a combination of dances — Japanese, South African, English and Indian — to symbolise her journey,” she concludes.