Vikram Sarabhai International Arts Festival
Outstanding collaborations dedicated to women

- Dr. SD Desai, Ahmedabad

January 5, 2013

Creative imagination was at its highest at the 37th three-day Vikram Sarabhai International Art Festival at Darpana Academy’s amphitheatre Natarani in Ahmedabad. And the sentiments it evoked were among the noblest. The perfectly integrated collaboration between Mallika Sarabhai (theatre, dance), Yadavan Chandran (visual communication) and Jayan Nair with Tritha Sinha (music) of the first two days turned international with Elizabeth Lombart (piano) joining them for the performance on the 30th.

And Lalla Sang

Both the complex performances entailed visual literacy, which with pinpoint concentration the ambience prompted, the predominantly young audience that had turned up in their colourful best seemed to have developed on the spot. Entering a cave-like opening as they walk on the dark narrow passageway up to their seats for And Lalla Sang, shadowy figures with only eyes gleaming one after another emerge as it were from nowhere and whisper mystical words.

Behind the gossamer curtain - on which initially mystical words remain flashed - Mallika in sack cloth as Lalla (8th century), a saint poet of Kashmir who is in renunciation after marriage like Meera, appears traversing a difficult terrain as the soundtrack gives a feel of running water and thunder clouds. The curtain opens for her to tell the spectators in front, through them the world, ‘Get to your feet – move, take wings.’

Her direct address to the mortals lined up atop by a high wall groping in the dark, ‘You fools … moving from void to void …’ instantly flashed on my mind Mathew Arnold’s lines, “And we are here as on a darkling plain / Swept with confused alarms of struggle and flight / Where ignorant armies clash by night.” Poets, of their vision, are all compact. Through her vachs, Lalla’s central message is: ‘Look within.’ She voices the longing of an enlightened being within us to be one with the supreme being permeating the universe.

Women with Broken Wings

Women with Broken Wings has, without exaggeration, all the makings of a piece of art that could claim a place in the Louvre of performing arts. On the strength of its qualities, its appeal and the tragic irony of its unintended topicality, a literary work would have gone down in the annals of history. A performance, alas, is a temporal art!

Premiered at the Zermatt Summit last June, it is a mutually complementary collaboration between two performers. Elizabeth Sombart of Resonnance Foundation, who has a heart exceptionally rich with music and compassion, has performed on her piano at the Theatre of the Champs-Elysees in Paris, among other such famed venues, and even more significantly, has offered music to the ears of those who have seen the ugliest face of life in the darkest corners of the world – to women whose dreams and joys are snuffed out even before they had fully flowered.

To Elizabeth’s sounds on the piano, now soft as falling rose petals, now swelling to a crescendo to interpret the victim’s gamut of churning emotions in the range of anguish and hopelessness, now receding and resting in an uneasy silence, Mallika is at her subtly expressive best in movement, stillness and with eyes, without a word all through. The performance brings out her best, as does Elizabeth’s, because it is their conviction for the cause that beckons to it. The activist in her, for a welcome change, is overcome by the compassionate shaped by artistic restraint.

Yadavan Chandran makes no mean contribution to the impact both lyrical and searing at the same time, Women with Broken Wings makes with his telling visual dimensions, adding to and complementing the ever enlarging cluster of images - of violence against women - but remaining within the alluring bounds of suggestion. There are others who contribute as well but would be content with unobtrusively heightening the impact.

It was all unplanned but the significance of the moving performance was not lost on the viewers, who knew without being specifically told about it, that the tragedy in the life of a girl right at the time when she was at the threshold of the joys of life, had symbolically become the rallying point for the nation’s consciousness and conscience.

Dr. SD Desai, a professor of English, has been a Performing Arts Critic for many years. Among the dance journals he has contributed to are Narthaki, Sruti,  Nartanam and Attendance. His books have been published by Gujarat Sahitya Academy and Oxford University Press. After 30 years with a national English daily, he is now a freelance art writer.