IAPAR festival in Pune, Maharashtra, India, November 2017
Ivona Janjic and Eunice Tudela de Azevedo select two performances to review from the IAPAR festival, to which they were invited as part of the IATC Young Critics’ Workshop, in collaboration with the Indian National Section, in November 2017. The IAPAR (International Association of Performing Arts and Research) festival was having its second edition in Pune, India, at the time when the workshop was organized.
Elephant in the Room, written by Sneh Sapru, created and performed by Yuki Ellias. Year of production: 2016. Company: Dur Se Brothers. Reviewed by Ivona Janjic.
Mandragora Circus. Director: Juan Cruz Bracamonte. Cast: Mariana Silva, Juan Cruz Bracamonte. Year of production: 2003. Company: Mandragora Circo. Reviewed by Eunice Tudela de Azevedo.
Dur Se Brothers’ production of Elephant in the Room is a monodrama that reinterprets a famous Hindu myth about the birth of Ganesha, the elephant god. Through the prism of this myth, the play not only raises significant questions about identity, but also about the relationship between the powerful and the powerless. At the same time, it is a comment on the environment and the manifold creatures that god and man seem to casually forget every now and then.
Ganesha, the son of Shiva and Parvati, is one of the most revered gods of Hindu mythology. His mother Parvati made him from clay, but Shiva, not knowing it was his son, beheaded him. To quiet Parvati’s rage, Shiva replaced the boy’s head with that of a baby elephant.
Reinterpretation of the myth necessitates a radical change of view. The myth is now viewed from the point when Ganesha, having acquired his elephant head, must grapple with his true identity. The play is his journey to knowing who he is. While Ganesha believes he must first find his original human head, his helpers, Murk and Makri, are looking for a way to lift a curse that has struck them. They think this boy with the elephant head may deliver them from the curse. And, finally, there is the father of the baby elephant, who was beheaded so that Ganesha would get his head.
Yuki Ellias, the solo actress of this adventure/fairy-tale styled production, takes on various characters. The scenery is abstract. It consists of two vertically positioned canvases, which can resemble elephant tusks (both set and costume are designed by Sumaiya Merchant). Projection of lights of various color upon these canvases help bring to life various landscapes. The lights are designed by Asmit Pathare. The sound design by “Seemingly That” helps alter our perception as the journey progresses. The costume consists of two parts: of the silver pelerine with a red linen; the baggy sleeves represent an elephant’s ears from time to time, and, overall, the costume has the appearance of a kimono. It is a striking costume that easily blends with the performance.
However, it is Ellias herself who succeeds in maintaining the lively rhythm of the performance. Her theatre is physical, and the postures and movements she uses to illustrate the different characters are very effective. The core of this performance lies in a carefully structured and layered story that almost attains a socio-political context. Consequently, the most powerful and moving scene of the performance will be Ganesha’s encounter with the father of the baby elephant, who has been sacrificed.
However, the performance ends quite abruptly: with a literal and metaphorical deus ex machina. All questions and doubts suddenly end with the mighty Shiva’s appearance. Alas, by that single act, Ganesha suddenly feels peace, Murk and Makri can live happily ever after and so can all the animals. All tension is diffused. This rather happy ending that plays safe is almost contradictory to the more nuanced beginning by which the production seeks to problematize the myth. (IJ)
Mariana Silva and Juan Cruz Bracamonte are the two performers of Mandragora Circus, a theatre-circus performance created in 2003, in Trelew, a city in the Patagonia region of their homeland, Argentina. The duo embraced the nomadic lifestyle associated with the saltimbanchi and have been uninterruptedly on tour for several years, having performed all over the world in various countries.
This polished, nonverbal performance is sweet, funny, and is able to entertain both children and adults even without much depth of meaning to it. Relying on their flawless clowning technique, Mariana and Juan perform a series of bits and gags that rely on various forms of juggling, miming, music with non-conventional instruments, contortion, among other things, to tell the simple, but not always smooth, relationship between lovers who quarrel from time to time.
Much of the audience’s connection with the performance seems instantaneous, since both artists, besides working so well together, are naturally engaging. Nonetheless, something mechanical and predictable starts to appear. This feeling, however, vanishes every time the two genuinely interact with the audience, since they are completely able to create a bond, as well as manage unexpected situations quickly, with grace and humor, as happened when Juan gave out a few handbells to randomly chosen members of the audience so they could create music together under his command, or when Mariana invited a young man onto the stage to partake in the juggling number. These moments, when they leap into the unpredictable abyss of audience interaction, are the ones that bring our attention and enjoyment to its peak and give us a warm feeling of endearment.
This particular show of Mandragora Circus at the IAPAR festival was incomplete because the stage did not have enough height for the aerial acts to be executed. Its overall rhythm was very good, but sometimes one couldn’t help but acknowledge the excessive length of some gags. The visually striking LED-light juggling constituted an abrupt break in performance that almost felt like an interlude.
The whole performance runs like clockwork—as it should since the two actor-collaborators have been doing it for so long—and shows us that not everything has to be groundbreaking or serious, or deal with pressing social or political issues. We can still connect with this performance and enjoy its charming simplicity for what it is worth. (ETA)
*Ivona Janjic (Belgrade, 1996) is a dramaturg and theatre critic from Belgrade. She studies at the University of Arts, Faculty of Dramatic Arts in Belgrade. She is the editor of Pozorište Online, a theatre web magazine. She is author for Presek, the official newspaper of the University of Arts. She is also a holder of the National Scholarship for Exceptionally Gifted Students.
**Eunice Tudelade Azevedo (Lisbon, 1988) is a PhD candidate in Theatre Studies at the School of Arts and Humanities of the University of Lisbon, where she holds an FCT scholarship. She is a member of the Centre for Theatre Studies of the University of Lisbon and of the Portuguese Association of Theatre Critics. She is also on the editorial board of Sinais de Cena, a journal of Performing Arts and Theatre Studies.