THIRUVANANTHAPURAM: “Speak about nature. Speak how we have to protect nature, about the need to find a balance with nature. Because we are dying, our people will die,” a bushman in South Africa told theatre artists Thierry Moucazambo and Philippe Pelen Baldini.
They had met the indigenous people while touring the world with their dance and drama company 'Water Carriers' and the duo has been speaking relentlessly about earth and environment through their artwork.
The group, based in Reunion Island, has now shifted base to India, where they are all geared up to find new roots, integrate the mother of all martial arts Kalaripayattu into theatre and craft work of arts that are deep, compelling and moving.
The duo has collaborated with India-based Kalarigram. The team of performers was in the city to stage 'Bhu', a happy synthesis of theatre, dance, music and Kalaripayattu. An experimental play, Bhu fuses myriad elements and tries to evoke in each person a desire to connect with the earth.
“Bhu, means Earth,” says Thierry who is the assistant director of the play. Philippe Pelen Baldini is the director and choreographer of Bhu.
It was in 1986 that Philippe and Thierry started the theatre group 'Talipot'. Later they christened the dance and drama company to 'Water Carriers', after the landmark success of their production by the same name which was staged 800 times across different countries.
“Reunion Island is like a melting pot of diverse cultures. When we founded our group we wanted to find a new way to express ourselves,” recalls Thierry. Bhu has been crafted as a collaborative work of Water Carriers and Kalarigram.
"When they visited our school Kalarigram, they wanted to see our performance,” chips in Kalari artist and dancer Nikhil Varagiri. “We performed for 10 minutes and after that Philippe had a strong desire to make a production with us," recalls Nikhil. "It is not just the movement in Kalari but there is a great culture behind it,” Thierry adds. The duo was so enamoured and charmed by Kalaripayattu that they decided to explore and experiment more by integrating Kalaripayattu into theatre. With Lakshman Gurukkal, the founder of Kalarigram and now the producer of Bhu, expressing his desire to collaborate with Water Carriers, they finally decided to shift base to India.
And thus 'Bhu' was born. The story of Bhu revolves around a man who is full of anger. He meets a master hoping that the latter will help him attain more skills on fighting. “Instead the master helps him fight with himself, with all his demons, fear and anger and thereby reconnect with himself. He reminds him how he is made of the five elements and thereby find a harmony within himself,” says Thierry who dons the role of the master in the dance drama.
“Kalaripayatu is a martial art but it is also an art form. Apart from lethal moves, it can be developed in a contemporary manner,” says Nikhil who plays the warrior who is in conflict with himself. Bhu is their tribute to earth, the performers say.
Deep and moving, the play asks some very pertinent questions.
With the poetic and rhythmic movements, the performers interact with earth and try to reconnect with the inner self. It is all about connecting with the Panchabhuthas (five elements), the earth, water, fire, air and ether and thereby reconnecting with earth. The music and dance of Bhu have also evolved over time as has the play. Tradition instruments of South India have been used for music with Mizhavu figuring prominently, says Ottan Thullal artist Suresh Kaliyath who accompanies the group in music.
Meanwhile, contemporary dance and African dance have also been incorporated into Bhu, says dancer and Kalari artist Swaroop Kannan. Apart from Thierry, Swaroop, Suresh Kalliyath and Nikhil, the performers include Prakash Sathiya and Madhu Jayamurthy. The technical team comprises Ashwin Ezhumalai (light designer) and Suresh Ravi(sound designer).
“It is all about transformation,” says Thierry on finding new roots here. "A part of me feels at home here,” he smiles. “When you really listen to your body, you will get some answers. But it is a process, to feel connected, rooted to the earth,” he adds.