Shocking News…Adieu Veenapani Chawla …A massive Cardiac arrest …. at 67 she leaves a great heritage and immense energy to experiment and explore the primordial resources that can make theatre and performance a genuine human endeavour … the rhythm beat is still heard; inflating the skies… reverberating as always… But she, the artistic director of Adishakti has made the exit…
Veenapani Chawla is one of the foremost experimental theatre exponents of modern India with a multi-faceted career; a writer, director, actor, organiser, and a dreamer…she established Adishakti Laboratory for Theatre Art Research in Pondicherry in 1981 A self-taught artist, who had evolved a new language for theatre practice through a process of intensive training in various forms of performing arts under traditional gurus and modern masters. She learnt Chhau from Guru Krishna Chandra Naik, Dhrupad from the Dagar brothers, and Kutiyattam from Guru Ammannur Madhava Chakyar. On the other hand, she took voice training from Patsy Rodenberg at the Royal Shakespeare Company, London, and attended Eugenio Barba’s Odin Teatret in Denmark.
Her Training in classical music - both western and Indian, and in forms like Kutiyattam, Mayurbhanj Chau, and Kalarippayatt, moulded a unique inquisitiveness to vie to create a performance methodology for contemporary theatre practice and a system of actor training rooted in Indian tradition. Her exposure and training in Eugenio Barba’s Odin Teatret has opened up skills and craft needed to probe into the traditional forms with a contemporary and universal perspective. Music, rhythm, and movement become the basement on which a new form of theatre form and a system of practice was devised. Her experiments with body, rhythm and form were truly contemporary and at the same time deeply rooted in tradition. She could successfully extract collaboration with traditional artists and their training systems to mould a new form- a form of theatre which is enthralling by itself.
Impressions of Bhīma, Brhannala, Ganapati, A Greater Dawn, So What's New, Khandava Prasdha Agniahooti, Sita, Oedipus, Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead, Trojan Women, The Awakening Ray, Rhythm, and The Hare and The Tortoise remain in the memory of theatre enthusiasts from all over the world as epitomes of her passion for creating an actor based highly energetic theatre, which is uniquely Indian in content, form and execution. She had an inclination for the stories extracted from the great epics and myths so that the craft and art of the performer can be flaunted at sky-high levels… Dazzling high voltage performances that made the audience struck by the intensity of the laboratory work that has resulted in the amalgamation of the form into the body and self of the actor. The contemporary body of the actor in unison with the epic characters and time tested performance forms, distilled in the verve atmosphere of the theatre laboratory produced mesmerising results. The music gets resonated intro the movement of the body, the energy resonates into the character; the performance become pristine and transparent; theatre becomes an actor’s art which is the result of complete devotion and extreme hard work; the result of exploring ones on body, soul, substance, and tradition. She interrogated traditional knowledge with a view to extrapolate the contemporary physical experiences to the primordial energy levels. The tradition of body culture in Kalarippayatt and Kutiyattam became the base resources. The breathing practice in Kutiyattam that explore the rasa and the physicality of human emotion, combined with the dhrupad singing, created the vocal enactment that persuades the physical manifestations of the actor. This new methodology and its practice created those unique actors and their system of acting that we see in Adishakti. She has been disseminating these experiences through workshops, performances and papers at national and international venues.
She was able to manage all resources she could acquire most effectively, with a clear focus and vibrancy in deliberation. Be it the human resources, or the traditional knowledge and its dissemination; or the financial resources and the grants she could muster from Ford Foundation, Charles Wallace India Trust, and many other National and International agencies... She managed all these resources to create the theatre she wanted with at most determination, lucidity and application.
Veenapani Chawla has articulated her concept of theatre as a theatre of 'hybridity' which has to create an impact on her audience by a ‘contagion of consciousness’, she had great conviction on the vital features that distinguish live theatre from the other performing arts and cinema, the 'hereness' of the space which the actor inhabits, and the possibility of using elements like music and lighting as vital signifiers, greatly enriching the meaning of the complete theatrical performance. Her productions gave the audience space for reinventing themselves with different interpretations and understanding. The slight abstract bend of her works gave the audience space to recreate the meaning of the performance in their own understanding.
‘Adishakti becomes interesting because it's in a largely rural setting though not away from digital technology or internet. Yet, there is space for an artiste to be with herself/himself to develop individual thoughts and experience. This allows artistes to be different. The moment an artiste becomes part of a group or a clique, the space for thinking differently is compromised.’ Said Veenapani.
Acceptance and accolades came her way….quite natural. Fellowship for a one month Residency at Villa Waldberta, Munich; the Zee Astitva Award for excellence in Theatre, the Sangeet Natak Akademi award for Theatre Director.
The Theatre of Veenapani Chawla – Theory, Practice and Performance, edited by Shanta Gokhale, and published by Oxford University Press, India delineates her work and philosophy of theatre...