At the Harris Theatre
By Dan Zeff
Chicago—The Ishara Puppet Theatre is credited as one of India’s leading creative puppet theaters. After seeing the company’s production of “Transposition” at the Harris Theatre Friday night I don’t doubt the claim at all.
Using dancers and puppets and music, the company staged a work that was deeply Indian but could engross Western viewers. The audience at the Harris ran from senior citizens to children and they were all engrossed.
“Transposition” was a one night performance, part of a celebration of Indian arts and culture called “Eye on India” that ran from July 8-17.
The Ishara troupe adapted “Transposition” from the short novel “The Transposed Heads” by the German writer Thomas Mann and the Vikram Vetal stories, related tales that go back more than 1,000 years in Indian literature. The immediate inspiration for the adaptation came from the Indian psychologist Rashna Imhasly Ghandy’s book “The Psychological of Love; Wisdom of Indian Mythology.” Although there is a narrative spine to the work, it’s pretty elusive in its philosophical subtext, but the Ishara performers make it all come alive as exquisite dance, fascinating even for those who don’t have any idea what’s happening storywise.
The plot involves three characters. The young men Nanda and Shridaman are close friends. They both love Sita but they cannot severe their friendship. The story takes a mythical leap when both young men literally lose their heads and Sita places them on the bodies of the two characters, only she gets the heads mixed up. The piece is supposed to be about the world of illusion and the spirit, and life and death and a lot of other ideas that may be too slippery for uninitiated audiences.
The story may be abstract and fantastical, but the production is a grabber. The romantic trio (played by Shailaja Nalwade, Swapan Mazumdar, and Dinesh Bali) are mesmerizing performers, enhanced by puppeteers who wear the torsos of the characters and become expressive elements in the story, a little like the puppets in “The Lion King,” but on a far different philosophical plane. About halfway through the performance the Hindu god Kali appears above the stage, looking down with supernatural majesty at the humans below while the deity folds and unfolds its billowing fabric garments like an undulating stingray.
My knowledge of the Indian dance tradition is nil, but even a novice must appreciate the grace of the dancers, especially their synchronized movements. The dance piece, which ran a little under an hour without an intermission, benefited from a dramatic score by Sawan Dutta and animation projections designed by Vishar Daar. The program was really a celebration of the nonverbal theater arts as orchestrated by director Dadi Pudumjee, who was also the show’s designer.
production included a spoken explanation of the story that I found difficult to
connect with the incidents performed by the dancers, but no matter. The color
and drama of the presentation were enough to make “Transposition” a singular
sensory and sensual viewing experience. It gets a rating of 31/2 stars.
Contact Dan at email@example.com July 2011