Sunday, August 31, 2014

AGLEYUM CLIYOPATRAYUM (Egle and Cleopatra) Premiered

AGLEYUM CLIYOPATRAYUM (Egle and Cleopatra) is a solo performance  in Malayalam Written, Directed and Designed by Chandradasan, enacted by Pooja Mohanraj and Performed by Lokadharmi Kochi, Kerala, based on the Lithuanian myth of Egle and William Shakespeare’s Antony & Cleopatra. This play was premiered in Changampuzha park Edappalli Kochi on 23rd August 2014.  

Established in October 1991, Lokadharmi was started by twenty-five theatre enthusiasts and today includes a theatre training school, a repertory, and a theatre laboratory. Some of its important productions include C.N.Sreekantan Nair’s Lankalakshmi, Bhasa’s Karnnabharam, Draupadi (by Chandradasan &Sukanya Shaji), Euripide’s Medea, William Shakespeare’s Tempest and Macbeth, K.N.Panikkar’s Poranadi, K.Damodaran’s Pattabakki etc. Its productions have won the National as well as International acclaim for their design, direction, and acting at various theatre festivals including Bharath Rang Mahotsav at NSD New Delhi. Lokadharmi performed Euripide’s Medea at the International festival on Ancient Greek Drama in Greece in 2001; Karnnabharam won awards for the best play, Scenic design, and Costume design at the META festival in 2008. Lokadharmi dreams the emergence of a village theatre culture and its characteristic energy rooted in Indian ethos and tradition and depicting contemporary Indian realities.
Scene 1:      The scene one begins with the actor transforming into Cleopatra. In this scene, the beauty, grace and charm of this magnificent character created by Shakespeare is exposed. Her love for Antony and her infinite variety comes across as the scene progresses. Knowing that Antony is getting ready to head back to Rome, she tries to manipulate him to stay. Antony leaves despite all her efforts and informs her that his wife, Fulvia, is dead. Cleopatra is utterly disappointed but is not ready to lose. The scene ends with her uttering the following words: “I feed myself with most delicious poison.

Scene 2:          In the second scene, the actor transforms to the innocent village girl Egle. She is crying for no reason. She goes to the sea shore for relief from her unreasonable pain. The sea washes away her tears and cheers her. Joyful Egle dances in excitement. The King of Serpents, Zilvinas, comes from the sea asking her to promise to be his bride. If she agrees, he says, nobody shall mourn because of the sea. Egle hesitantly agrees as she has no choice. Under the sea, she finds out that Zilvinas is just no ordinary serpent but a handsome young man. She falls in love with Zilvinas and lives happily with him.

Scene 3:          In scene three, the actor transforms back to Cleopatra. During the first half of the scene, Cleopatra is reminiscing her times with Antony. She is missing Antony so much that the queen goes fishing and calls every fish she catches ‘Antony’. A messenger informs Cleopatra that Antony has married Octavia. Cleopatra responds outrageously to this news. She tries to maintain calm but she is too affected by the news. She, calling herself Egypt, refers to her states as “Egypt melting into the Nile”. Cleopatra, exhausted, faints due to the heaviness caused within her from the news of Antony’s marriage.

Scene 4:          Scene four portrays a lonely Egle. Years have passed. She is the serpent queen. She has children and loves her husband, Zilvinas. But still she feels lonely. A sudden urge develops in her wanting to visit her family in the village and to experience the world outside the sea. Zilvinas is concerned about her leaving but she promises to come back soon. He warns her to keep his name a secret. He also tells her the secret calling to return back:
"Žilvinas, dear Žilvinas,
If alive - may the sea foam milk
If dead - may the sea foam blood..."
Egle leaves for home with her children promising Zilvinas to return soon.

Scene 5:          Cleopatra is broken completely by the news of Antony’s suicide. She decides:
“This mortal house I'll ruin,
Do Caesar what he can.”
Cleopatra cannot bear the sight of her being dragged infront of the Roman people has a Egyptians puppet. Rather, she prefers to die in a ditch in Egypt. She has immortal longings but still she decides to die instead of the insults of the Roman public. She kills herself with the pretty snake from Nile which kills without pain. Like other things, Cleopatra celebrates her death.

Scene 6:          Egle wakes up from a nightmare and runs to the sea shore. The sea is still like the dead.  Egle, trembling in fear, calls for Zilvinas. The sea turns red, confirming Egle’s fears- Zilvinas is dead. The dead Zilvinas, tells Egle that her brothers had killed him and it was their daughter who revealed his secret. Egle and her children turn themselves into trees. They don’t have home. Egle turns into the evergreen, firm rooted fir tree.

Agleyum Cleopatrayum (Egle & Cleopatra), is a one actor performance inspired from the folk myth of Egle from Lithuania and William Shakespeare’s Antony and Cleopatra. The experience of the two characters Cleopatra and Egle are entwined together to probe into the different manifestations of love. Both Cleopatra and Egle were victims of Love; love with different facades and connotations. The experiences of these two characters from two different cultures times and spaces are reconnoitered so as to extrapolate and explore the contemporary female experience.

The love of Cleopatra the Queen of Egypt, seems to contain a venomous strain. Cleopatra, ‘the charming serpent of Nile’ remain a mystery; she cleverly uses the unparalleled sensuality of her body to make men kneel at her whims and fancies. Here love is highly sensual with ecstasies of physicality, wild streams of fantasy and extreme romanticism.

Why Cleopatra fell in love with all those men - from Caesar to Antony - who came across her? Was Cleopatra a sexual maniac with infinite shades of lust? She identifies love as the ‘most delicious poison’, as ‘an excellent falsehood’ or a ‘riotous madness’. It seems that the love act of Cleopatra is not merely to satisfy her carnal instincts, but also is a defence mechanism to protect her country from enemies and invaders and colonisers. Cleopatra uses her unmatched talents and perspicacity in the art of love to conquer the conqueror. She calls herself as ‘Egypt’ and her desire is to be buried in the mud and waters of Egypt than taken to the royal courts of Rome; this reinforces that her act of love may be a political armour to defeat the invader. There is no escape for the invader from this enchanting queen, and her infinite scheme of seductions. But the tragedy is that in the end Cleopatra herself falls as the victim of her own prangs of passion, and emotional ecstasies. The hunt and prey merges to be one; and as always the ultimate loser is Cleopatra, the female.

On the contrary Egle the mythical character from Lithuania, who is forced to marry a snake is a simple farmer girl with all the innocence of a forest breeze. She had no choice to make, but marry Zilvinas, the serpent prince and go to his amber castle beneath the sea. She adapted herself to this alien environment and started living there happily. After few years she endeavours to visit her home to meet her folks. The condition to Zilvinas was that she shall not reveal the name of her husband; she should come to the sea and call his name to return to their abode. If he is alive ‘may the sea foam milk, if dead may the sea foam blood.’ But as she returns, he comes as a stream of blood, a sign that her promise had been broken. Brothers have got his name from the youngest child and they killed him to ‘save her from the clutches of a snake and save the family honour’.  Engulfed in inexplicable outpour of emotion which empowers her, she transforms herself into a deep rooted evergreen fir tree, instead of returning with her folk.

This performance do not narrate the whole story but is trying to portray the emotional experiences and ecstasies of both Cleopatra and Egle at three crucial situations each. Scenes chosen from Cleopatra’s story are the parting of Antony from her, her response to Antony’s marriage with Octavia and the final moments when she discerns about Antony’s death and her suicide. Egle scenes are the forceful acceptance of Zilvinas as her husband and travelling to the castle beneath the sea, her loneliness and desire to visit her parents and the journey back, and finally where she realises the sad death of Zilvinas and her transforming into the fir tree. 

The tormenting experience of these two characters are performed by a single actor to create a physical theatre charged with emotion. The performance and scenic design invokes a kind of ritualistic theatre; the tempo gradually increases, before reaching the peak. The actor shifts and transforms smoothly from the narrator, Cleopatra, Egle, and Zilvinas; the changes and shifts in time, space and character takes place spontaneously in a continuous harmonium as in the indigenous performance tradition of India. The intimate viewing in a sandwiched space adds to this immediacy of experience that provokes the spectator to complete the enacted poetry.

Egle grows from a simple country girl to a powerful person who can transform herself into an evergreen fir tree, while Cleopatra the all-powerful enchantress queen, falls down from the heights of a charming dreamy life and kills herself in the end using serpent’s venom. Though they live different terraces of experiences, they are knit together with the serpent motif; the living ritual practice of the serpent cult in Kerala in turn, merges the distance in time and space of fiction/ myth to the contemporary performance ethos. The performance takes place around a Sarpakalam, - the traditional/ritualistic practice of floral painting of Kerala, done with natural colour powders. This Kalam drawn with motifs of stylized figures of snake gods, drawn in white, black, yellow, green and ochre give a rare vitality with shades of old-world magic, reminiscent with a primitive mystique drama of human passions and divine connotations. The knotted, twining serpents cast a spell to create an ambience of pulsating and evocative prelude to the ecstatic drama and links it to the depths of racial memory, both of the performer and the spectator. Towards the end of the performance the actress gets into a kind of trance with a swaying dance like movement, with white bunches of arica nut buds in her hands and wipes off the kalam. This culmination in a trance like situation lifts the whole scene/atmosphere to a voyage beyond space and time; the viewers are transported into a world of magic with the fragrance of myth, fact, and fantasy. The ambience of the design completes and compliments this ritual experience. Still, it is an actor’s theatre; love, anger, frustration, misery - all the feelings were expressed in the same purest form. Ritual itself is looked as a tool to connect the actors system and transform into a voyage to a stream of emotional flow.

The play is complemented by Salim Nair’s “Elegy for two Queens”, a composition in six movements that blends the classical Indian and western approaches to music.

Few visual artists will be painting their emotional response to the enactment while the performance is on, thus by adding to the wholesome experience. Well known artists T.Kaladharan, CS Jayaram, VB Venu and Shobha Menon joined the premiere performance with live painting.

Painting, ritual, myth, enactment, dramatic text, music, lighting and design all supplements each other to create a multi-layered ambience/experience of viewing/performance.

This is an extension of my production of "Egle and Cleopatra" which I designed and directed in Lithuania with Lina Jankauskaite as the actor for "Anima Mundi", the International Art Festival 2013. The production was the result of an intercultural collaboration between my experience and perception about life and theatre with the reality, cultural and historical ethos of Lithuania, trying to understand each other and arrive at a common performance language.


Chandradasan the founder and artistic director of Lokadharmi and Mazhavillu is a designer, director, actor, writer and translator. He has directed about 40 plays in Malayalam, Kannada, Finnish, Lithuanian, Tamil, Sanskrit, and English languages that include Medea (Euripides); Poranadi (K.N.Panicker); Karnnabharam (Bhasa); Lankalakshmi (CN Sreekantan Nair); Story of the Silly Folk (in Finnish based on the oral story tradition of Finland, for Arts Council Joensuu and Space for Performance Joensuu, Finland) Two mothers at the Realm of Death (A Finnish/Malayalam production co-directed with Tuire Hindika), and the children’s plays Thathamaram (Self),  Oru Koottam Urumbukal (G. Sankara Pillai); Vishnu Maya (K.N.Panicker); Charandas Chor (Habib Tanvir), Bommanahalliyile Kinnara Yogi (self, based on the Kannada poem by Kuvempu); Chandrasekhara Kambar’s Aalibabavum 40 Thirudarkalum (in Tamil for NSD, RRC), among many others. He has visited Finland, Lithuania, Bangladesh and Greece to direct plays, conduct workshops, participate in in seminars, and perform in Festivals.  His plays were performed in the International on Ancient Greece drama in Greece 2001, Anima Mundi - the International Arts Festival Lithuania 2013, and has also participated in many National and International Festivals in India including Bharat Rang Mahotsav. He is the recipient of Mahindra Excellence in Theatre award (META) for best play in 2008. He also received the Kerala State Sangeetha Nataka Academy award for his contribution to theatre in 2004. He is the winner of the Fulbright- Nehru Fellowship for Professional and academic Excellence 2014. 




l Art & Costumes : SHOBHA MENON
l Lighting: SRIKANTH
l Production and Direction Assistance: SHAIJU T HAMZA
l Stage in Charge: JOLLY ANTONY
l Documentation: ANANTHU
l Production in charge, & Media Management: MADAN KOLAVIL
l Script, Design and Direction CHANDRADASAN

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