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Atul Kumar’s latest play interprets Shakespeare through contemporary dance

Theatre director Atul Kumar’s latest production Khwaab-Sa, an adaptation of the Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream, portrays foolish mortals and naughty fairies through Hindi gibberish and contemporary dance.

art and culture Updated: Jan 23, 2017 07:43 IST
Kaushani Banerjee
Kaushani Banerjee
Hindustan Times
William Shakespeare,A Midsummer Night's Dream,Piya Behrupiya
A rehearsal still from the play(HT Photo)

“Love looks not with the eyes, but with the mind/ And therefore is winged Cupid painted blind.”

For theatre director Atul Kumar, the famous lines from William Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream Act I Scene I translates into an evocative mix of love, mistaken identity and comedy accompanied by song and dance. His latest play Khwaab-Sa explores the original text through a completely new medium — contemporary dance. “ I have no knowledge about the form, but I’ve always been attracted to it. We’ve removed most of the dialogues and explored the essential scenes — especially, the ones between the four lovers (Helena and Demetrius, and Hermia and Lysander) —through gestures and movements,” says Kumar. His most recent work, Piya Behrupiya, an adaptation of Shakespeare’s The Twelfth Night, has been performed in 18 countries and has won a host of prestigious awards.

Modern take

Retelling Shakespeare through contemporary forms is a common theatrical strategy. In Piya Behrupiya, Kumar used nautanki, while Khwaab-Sa uses dance as a storytelling device. Speaking about why he chose to use dance to tell the story, he says, “The inspiration was meeting this beautiful dancer, Diya Naidu. She’s a choreographer from Bangalore and has trained at the Attakkalari Centre for Movement Arts. I saw her perform and I was besotted. I approached her to see if she would be interested in choreographing something, which included a world of fairies, and devise a language where the lovers (characters in the play) don’t have to talk. She was excited as well and agreed to do it.”

Diya Naidu has choreographed the play and essays the role of Helena in Khwaab-Sa (HT Photo)

Fellow theatre director Rajat Kapoor uses clowns to recreate Shakespearean plays, but Kumar is constantly experimenting with different devices. “Apart from clowns, there are other ways to contemporise these plays. I’m looking at dance at the moment, but there are so many influences in theatre these days. There’s digital media, alternative spaces, audience participation, as well as something called immersive theatre; such forms are emerging around the world. I’m sure I’ll keep exploring new forms,” says Kumar.

Apart from clowns, there are other ways to contemporise these plays. I’m looking at dance at the moment, but there are so many influences in theatre these days. — Atul Kumar

Recreating magic

On recreating Shakespeare’s works, Kumar says, “We are doing all his works one by one. It’s not one against the other, but we’re slowly staging them all. We’ve done Hamlet, King Lear, The Taming of the Shrew and Richard III; I’ve also directed Romeo and Juliet in a school production. I loved A Midsummer Night’s Dream as a child. Fairies and lovers lost in a jungle, and getting magic potions put on their eyes and wild animals — all of that was fascinating. I entered it [the play] with a lot of innocence, but it ended up becoming a little dark (laughs). So, it’s more of A Midsummer Night’s Nightmare than a Dream. I think it’s got to do a little with my age.”

The comedy has been translated from Shakespeare’s text into ‘Hindi gibberish’ by theatre actor Saurabh Nayyar. “We are talking in a nonsensical language that does not exist, but it has a flavour of Hindi. A lot of my other works, such as Hamlet used western gibberish. The gibberish here is more like baby-talk and uses random sounds to communicate. So, expressions, gestures, objects and the body become more important. The language works more on the level of its texture, phonetics and the use of sound,” explains Kumar.

Nick Bottom and Titania in a scene from the play (HT Photo)

West meets East

The play’s style may be Indian, but the plot and characters remain Shakespeare’s. “There are fairies, they are singing operatically and they also fall in love with animals (Nick Bottom and Titania). The characters are exactly as they appear in the play, and their lines retain their essence, but the dialogues aren’t expressed verbally. The first thing that I needed to let go to explore the dance form were the words. Shakespeare is known for his words, but there is so much more behind the dialogues that I’m trying to present to the audience,” he says.

Premiere Shows — Khwaab-Sa will be staged at Balgandharva Rang Mandir, Bandra (W), on January 28 and 29, 7.30pm and at Sophia’s Auditorium, Cumballa Hill, February 4, 7.30pm.

The author tweets @literarystew

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First Published: Jan 22, 2017 18:29 IST