Agleyum Cleopatrayum (Egle and Cleopatra) by Lokadharmi Performed by Pooja Mohanraj, written designed and directed by Chandradasan was performed in Ekaharya Festival at Tripunithura on 27th December 2014.
Agleyum Cleopatrayum (Egle & Cleopatra), is 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 defense mechanism to protect her country from enemies and invaders and colonizers. 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 armor 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 endeavors 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 honor. 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 realizes 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 color 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.
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 Asanthan and Devadas 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.
Besides Pooja Mohanraj (actor), Bhanuvajanan (Set), Salim Nair (Music), Shobha Menon (art and costumes), Ajeesh Pulluvan (Sarpakalam), Madan Babu (Production in Charge), Sreekanth Cameo (Lighting), Selvaraj, Pradeep Sreenivasan, ShaijuT Hamsa (production Team) Sankar and Chandradasan (director) contributed to the show.