TODAY -

'TODAY' in today's theatre
- Part 2 -

H Kanhailal *

Heisnam Kanhailal - Padmashree Recipient (Theatre)  :: July 2009
Heisnam Kanhailal - Padmashree Recipient (Theatre) :: July 2009



My culture is in my body, or body is the culture, to put in a slightly different way. We need to explore and understand it for creative purposes and hone it as a theatre person. We do not make attempts to empty our body of our culture to find a body which is a historical or a body which is decontextualized and set free for multicultural or global purposes.

Multicultural mixings are imperialistic and the way they deal with culture is objectionable, especially in the context of Asians. This is more so when Asian directors make multicultural attempts of their performances. Culture makes meaning when it firmly and meaningfully situates in its local context. But, once uprooted it becomes an empty outer shell.

But, the shell is beautiful and exotic and it sells like hot cakes. This is the problem we are facing especially in Manipur theatre. My set of theatre exercises are rooted in my culture. The actor-director relationship, the training process, or the theatre culture we pursue are closely intertwined with our practical life and culture. I feel, this is perhaps why our ethnic theatre practitioners in the Northeast find it more homely with my theatre.

Others may find a culture shock when we are together in the thick of our practice. This is a teething problem for everybody and once overcomes it he or she will definitely find an experience very humane and creative. I do not want to impose my culture to others from other cultures. But, I want them to understand their own culture and its positioning through understanding of our theatre culture and practice.

'Today' in today's theatre is not simply at the level of thematic content or the problems of life in the society are addressed or not in performance. It also covers theatre culture and practices at structural level. The politics, economy, power relationships, director and actor relationship, should also be discussed to find if 'Today' is not there in theatre of today.

Now let me speak something on Kalakshetra Manipur which I founded in 1969. Since inception it has always been active in creating a theatre rooted to the socio-political context of its existence. The theatrical history of the group has convincingly engendered a voice of dissent ingeniously creating an "alternative dissident expression" of its own influenced by the Manipuri cultural forms on the style, technique and subject matter.

This form of creative expressions took root in the dissident state of suffering. Performances of the group are firmly located in the political and socio-economic legacy of the people. From time to time the group manages to find their way out in responding to the political problems that the state is plague with.

The group directed by me has crystallized the most crucial realities of oppression and resistance through plays such as Pebet, Memoirs of Africa, Draupadi, etc. making the spectators alert of the resilience of the human spirit in countering the dominant anxieties of the time. Each of these works marks a stage in the philosophical journey of my thought, culminating with ontology of the corporeal conceptualized in my later thought.

My oeuvre emberks on the ritual of suffering, which has described as a turning point in both art and ideology. This is part of the group's attempt to evolve a new ideological basis for artistic, social, economic and political life, with the aim of the betterment of humanity. The little gems of innovative cultural production, artistic resistance and creative disobedience to the oppressive forces continue sprouting from time to time.

In that sense, KKM has engendered a culture culture in defiance. Thus we have defied the city theatre that provides global theatre, institutionalized theatre, export theatre, propaganda theatre and so on. We are going back to a space that defies the conventional theatre of a closed circuit fortified by dry rules, rituals that is city theatre. When I do mean a space I do not concern another stage, but an area and the substance of land and the substance of sky bound by that area of the 'earth'.

It is not at all for poetic adventure, but the main concern is that these natural substances become the living participants in the actor's symbiotic relationship with the natural environment and the cultural sources which are 'hidden, ancient and forgotten' of the indigenous peoples of my areas. It is therefore to see that the theatre moves back to its original home of wild space in contact with the accumulated wisdom of the earth and tradition.

Theatre undergoes for a natural life to breathe in new values for a more powerful dialogue amidst the rural and natural environment, the original space of the earth. That's how we intonate the spirit of the earth. This is the way how we, the insiders as well as the outsiders, consider our practice as of theatre of the earth.

In answering to how this work does serve theatre, I believe that it teaches theatre and art, from the contact with the roots, not academically, but continues to teach:

1) To see the light of the truth of gesture, sound, movement, music, and the truth in action;

2) What once denied and prevented from learning as unnatural, immoral and unmannerly becomes natural, true and profound.

Thus we evolve a process of organic acting. The main focus in the research is to create a conscious process of physical and visceral form of expression while making organic impact of the body, the only human resource of the actor. It will consequently consolidate the process in answering to how the body dynamics is used and transcended.

Concluded...


* H Kanhailal wrote this article for The Sangai Express
This article was posted on March 16, 2016.


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