Adishakti Laboratory for Theatre Art Research

Arts Collaboration

Grant Period: Over one year

Adishakti represented by Veenapani Chawla and Vinay Kumar, and musician Hariharan seek through the present project to study how the concepts inherent in Koodiyattam music can make a meaningful contribution to theatre and theatre music. They intend, through their examination of the textual nature of the Koodiyattam music to evolve an aesthetic suited to an enhanced, contemporary form of Koodiyattam theatre, which have implications for the creative concerns of contemporary theatre in general. There are several aspects concerning an understanding of music as text in a Koodiyattam performance. The first is the importance of rhythm. Music in Koodiyattam functions less as an extraneous accompaniment and more as a sustained rhythm that takes on different structures to correspond to the many emotions that an actor portrays through it.

Linked to this understanding of rhythm is an awareness of the role played by breath in Koodiyattam. Breath here is a kind of primordial rhythm. It is because of the fact that the way an actor breathes is basic to his sense of his own rhythm, and because music likewise creates the fundamental rhythmic pattern that orders the entire performance, that an understanding of music as text was reached. Another aspect of music as text is the relationship between the vocal sound or vachika and music. Music does not provide the background for the vachika, which largely fulfils a narrative function. Instead, the music comes in between the vachika (which is usually brief and emerges after long stretches of time) to provide the actor with a means of carrying the narration forward. On the other hand, the vachika falls into the pattern provided by the music so that the musical instruments fall silent, without creating a sense of dissonance, when the vocal expression begins.

The final proposal introduced a distinction between the two kinds of musical instruments used in Koodiyattam those that fulfill the function of music as text, and these that contribute to its vocabulary of sound. The collaborators said only the mizhavu belonged to the first category because while it is possible to have a performance without any of the other three instruments it is impossible to have a performance without the mizhavu. This idea reinforces the textual role of mizhavu, for it is possible for it to take on the aural functions of the other three instruments in the same way that it enters into other aspects of the performance like vocal sound and movement. Adishakti has been engaged in creating a new aesthetic for theatre, and has towards this end been exploring the principles of forms like dance, martial arts, classical theatre, and cinema. The present project seeks through the metaphorical, multi-layered, textual nature of Koodiyattam music to see how it can be used to add to the vocabulary of a Koodiyattam performance. The fundamental idea underlying this project is that music in Koodiyattam functions according to certain principles that give it its central, textual nature.

The collaborators propose to study all the musical devices in Koodiyattam under the guidance of Hariharan, re-examine earlier Adishakti productions for possibilities of applying new musical devices to them, study the sources of both vocal and non-vocal sound to better their understanding of the nature of sound, and interact with several musicians from different backgrounds. There will also be a monthly interaction with Aurelio, a musician and instrument-maker from Auroville who participates in this project as a resource person. Finally, it is proposed that a new theatre piece with music as text be created. Both these would be performed at Pondicherry and Auroville before being taken on a countrywide performance tour.