Kathakali Meets Shakespeare !

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Four decades ago, the French dancer and choreographer Annette Leday decided to merge her passion for theatre and dance by learning Kathakali. After her training in Tamil Nadu and later Kerala, she traveled extensively with her troupe to perform across the world. A fateful encounter with the Australian playwright David McRuvie in Paris gave birth to the idea of Kathakali-King Lear – a production that combines Shakespeare’s tragic play with the classical Indian dance form!

A still from 'Kathakali-King Lear'

A still from ‘Kathakali-King Lear’

Kathakali-King Lear premiered in 1989 and has been performed in prestigious venues across the world – including Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre in London. Annette adds that David’s idea of turning King Lear into a Kathakali performance made sense because both Elizabethan drama and the dance form developed around the 17th Century. The two also had male actors playing female characters. Kathakali uses stories to talk about ethics and themes like kingship, power, rejection, love, and betrayal which are also present in King Lear. A clip from the performance at Globe Theater can be found here :

While Shakespeare’s play King Lear is divided into five acts and has a parallel plot, David’s adaptation focuses solely on the relationship between King Lear and his daughters (Goneril, Regan, and Cordelia) and is divided into nine episodes. Even though it is often hailed as a shining example of cross-cultural theatre, Annette insists that only a few tweaks have been made to the form of Kathakali. For example, in Kathakali-King Lear, the character of the the King’s Fool (court jester) is treated as a novelty and is developed from the character of ‘vidhushaka’ in Koodiyattam, another performance art form of Kerala. An interesting change is in the costumes however – the two sisters are dressed in kari vesham (black costume) while Cordelia is dressed in minukku vesham (a colourful costume for characters representing high standing).

King Lear (Peesappilly Rajeev) | Photo Credits : Keli/Paris

King Lear (Peesappilly Rajeev) | Photo Credits : Keli/Paris

The 90-minute long show was last performed in 1999 and has only been performed in India once before. The current series of performances is a revival and features some of the original cast members who have mastered their craft over the years. Alliance Française de Trivandrum recently piloted a series of performances of this unique production in India in partnership with the Government of Kerala, Bharat Bhavan, the French Institute in India, and Théâtre de la Ville de Paris. Staged by Keli Company, the performance had audiences spellbound in Trivandrum (Nov 30), Chandigarh (Dec 4), Delhi (Dec 6), Chennai (Dec 8), Mumbai (Dec 13), and Pune (Dec 15). After touring in India, Kathakali-King Lear will be performed at the Théâtre de la Ville in Paris in April 2019, marking the 30th anniversary of its creation.

Siddharth Bhatt

Rédaction, AF Magazine Inde-Népal

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Rédaction

Directeur de publication : Délégation Générale de la Fondation Alliance Française en Inde et au Népal

Rédacteur en chef : Laurent Elisio Bordier

Rédacteur/Coordinateur national : Siddharth Bhatt

Rédacteurs, contributeurs : Guillaume, Abhirami, Alexandre, Chintan, Cléa, David, Eleonore, Elie, Kanika, Karine, Nita, Thomas, Malvika, Marie-Joëlle, Meera, Mayuri, Mitushi, Alice, Prutha, Romain, Ritika, Manas, Supriya ...