In Search Of A New Language Of Theatre: Delhi Ibsen Festival

Usham Rojio *

Kalakshetra Manipur's production "An Enemy Of The People" :: Picture Credit -

Thou calm, serene but courageous Cicada,
Set to journey a tiny stream,
In the midway,
the deep water displays its existence.
In the midway,
Shows its currents, strength and madness.
Unable to cross it,
Unable to get across,
Thou, in wrath, full of angst
Standing on the bank, pronounced,
"O...thou water...
Why thou makest tidings?
Why thou deep water hinders?
O' Water, thou makest the heart umbrage

The seven day Delhi Ibsen Festival 2012 has started from December 1 to 7, 2012. Organised by the Norwegian Embassy and the Dramatic Art and Design Academy, the festival features plays of Henrik Ibsen performed by a range of avant garde troupes and directors from across the world. This year, two young Directors from India - Heisnam Tomba from Manipur and Sankar Venkateswaran from Kerala - have been commissioned for Delhi Ibsen Festival with other well-known international Directors like Staniewski and Ovlyakuli. The Padatik Group from Kolkata has opened the festival with "The Master Builder" directed by the Polish avant garde theatre director Wlodzimierz Staniewski on December 1, 2012. These are in addition to troupes from Pakistan, Uzbekistan and Norway.

The closing of the festival is the performance of Kalakshetra Manipur's production. The Manipuri Director, Heisnam Tomba of Kalakshetra Manipur, is directing the Ibsen's famous play "An Enemy of the People". The play addresses the irrational tendencies of the masses, the hypocritical and corrupt nature of the political system that they support. The play's heated discussion of 'Just', who should control the levers of power in a society, whether the intellectually superior, forward-thinking individual or the mindless majority should dictate public policy, makes for savoury meat to chew on. It is the story of one brave man, whose voice loud and clear as cicada, struggle to do the right thing and speak the truth in the face of extreme social intolerance.

The co-ordinator of the production, Usham Rojio, in selecting this particular play, expresses, "The theme of the play is of contemporary relevance, essential issues of the time, the conflict between conventional and traditional world, and the tragic flaw of democracy. The play is very much relevant to the political scenario of contemporary Manipur." Kshetri Sanajaoba who initially translated the English text to Meiteilon expresses, "Ibsen spoke for individualism and emancipation against the compromises of liberalism and its limited ideas of freedom. True freedom, for Ibsen, is social freedom, spiritual freedom, freedom of thought and conscience. The play is very much important in the context of Manipur."

The Director, Heisnam Tomba says, "Initially I thought several times whether i should embark on this project or not after being invited. Finally I decided there is no harm in venturing this experiment. Finally it became interesting journey experimenting and working on Ibsen's theme keeping his universality intact. 'An enemy of the People' is being transformed to our own theatre, privileging the self of the actor over the character in reflection as a way of cathartic process. Ibsen's text is attempted to locate in a continuum of living theatre, sensitive to the sensory, energised by the power of sound and movement."

Tomba continues, "The causal and discursive dramaturgy of Henrik Ibsen's 'An Enemy of the People' is attempted to transform into a dramaturgy "logical, sensuous and lyrical" through images created by body, sound and music to suit our own individualised theatre. We have collaborated extensively with our performers, designers, musicians, writers and scholars with an understanding and appreciation of distinct aesthetics, rhythms and sensibilities that each of us shared and brought into the production, making it an intercultural and multilingual performance."

Nissar Allana, the Director of the festival in his visit in Manipur last month, after observing the rehearsal of the play expressed, "Tomba's play is a different Ibsen altogether. His play is lyrical which is very interesting. No other production has attempted Ibsen's An Enemy of the People in such a manner."

Moving away from the demands of the Urban Theatre, Kalakshetra Manipur's team work together as a family in the vicinity of its premise situated at a hillside in the outskirt of Imphal city. The team wake up early morning at 4:00 am ready for morning walk, someday on the top of the hill, someday on the range of the hillside. Someday they went to the river playing with the water. Coming back from the morning walk, the team cleans and tidy up their rooms and their working spaces. Then, after a cup of tea, they begin their physical and vocal exercises developed by Kalakshetra Manipur under the guidance of Heisnam Kanhailal, Heisnam Sabitri and Heisnam Tomba in their 40 years of existence and research. The team then have their breakfast prepared themselves and some of them voluntarily prepared their lunch and the rest continue to rehearse their roles passing jokes laughing heartily at the fullest. After having their lunch they have an hour of nap then continue their rehearsal of the play till evening.

Interestingly, acting is not taught in Kalakshetra Manipur but a space of self creativity and of energising the body and sound is given to the actors by working together, laughing heartily, playing various indigenous games and theatre-oriented games. The effort here is to create a space interspersed and traversed by subjective interpretations of the team, of gestures, lyrical dialogues and musical movements, privileging the self of the actor and his/her impulse. A larger narrative of the process itself which was also realized as not always premeditated and consciously being 'performed' but rather events created out of spending time together in a series of happenings and the gradual unfolding of a somewhat coherent performance through several conflicts, opinions, indecision and false presumption.

One of the things which also emerged out of the process of rehearsals was the simultaneous lumps of these performances within a constantly changing space, along which the actors and the spectators moved from one fence to the other. The actors constantly having dialogue with the meadow, paddy field and streams of water as a part of their voice exercise creates a lingering soundscape that becomes not only a metaphorical matrix through language and mood but also served in enlarging the spatiality much beyond the theatrical studio space. As I realized, such voice and movement exercises gave direction to the choreography and composition of the scenes. These were developed and experimented through improvisation and the construction in the dramaturgy attempted to create and understand a possible new Ibsen in contrast to a realist 'Ibsenian style'.

Heisnam Tomba added, "The performance so far is a work-in-progress, journey in search of a new language of theatre keeping the Ibsen's universality intact. The play is being transformed to our own theatre, privileging the self of the actor over the character in reflection as a way of cathartic process. Ibsen's text is attempted to locate in a continuum of living theatre, sensitive to the sensory, energised by the power of sound and movement." The powerful rustic music by the director of the play is a language in itself. At this instant, the Kalakshetra Manipur is all set for the final show of the Delhi Ibsen Festival 2012 on December 7, 2012.

* Usham Rojio sent this news article to
The writer is a Research Scholar, School of Arts & Aesthetics, Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi and can be contacted at urojio[AT]gmail[DOT]com
This was posted on December 01, 2012 and later updated on December 14 2012.

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