When two ways of native theatre came together

Udupi-based Yakshagana Kendra and the Yuva Kerala Chavittu Nataka Samithi, which performed at the Kochi-Muziris Biennale 2014's cultural programmes, at a unique interaction programme.

Kochi: The Kochi-Muziris Biennale (KMB’14) provided the first-ever platform for two pre-classical Indian arts to interact, as practitioners of Karnataka’s Yakshagana and Kerala’s Chavittu Natakam came face-to-face to demonstrate their techniques and aesthetics on the sidelines of a momentous show.

Sixteen members of Udupi-based Yakshagana Kendra presented the nuances of their theatre at the Yuva Kerala Chavittu Nataka Samithi, whose artistes showed in return how the Christian stomp drama has evolved over the past five centuries to include non-Biblical themes as well of late.

Udupi-based Yakshagana Kendra presents 'Chakravyuha' with Mahabharata character Abhimanyu as the protagonist at the KMB performing arts festival in Gothuruthu near North Paravur.

Ahead of their February 1 performance in the Chavittu Natakam heartland of Gothuruthu near North Paravur, the Yakshagana artistes from south Canara visited nearby Kurumbathuruth village where Roy Georgekutty trains his troupe in the highly colourful Latin Catholic dance-drama known for its influences of the European opera.

“Such meetings are essential in today’s age of increasing cross-cultural contacts,” said KMB’14 Director of Programmes Riyas Komu, after biennale performing arts festival curator Keli Ramachandran facilitated the rendezvous.

On Sunday, the two teams assembled outdoors in sunshine, hours before Gothuruthu saw for the first time a staging of Yakshagana. Roy, who is the son of legendary Chavittu Natakam master Georgekutty Ashan, initiated the interaction through a lecture-demonstration of the basic steps of his art form. To this, the young Yakshagana exponents presented passages from their basic lessons.

Subsequently, the two teams did a compare-and-contrast of the body language employed in dancing to the same rhythms.

“These days, Yakshagana has stories other than from Hindu mythology,” pointed out up-and-coming dancer Shailesh Naik. To this, Roy added: “We too have started working on non-Biblical themes. Only month before last we presented ‘Sabarimala Sri Ayyappan’ in Chavittu Natakam style (as part of KMB’14 performing arts festival).”

Babita Madhvaraj, who is coordinator of the 1971-founded Yakshagana Kendra, noted that both the art forms had their set of differences in approach even as Yakshagana and Chavittu Natakam have coastal origins in southwest India. “We stick to classical traditions, while Chavittu Natakam has its base on local folk ethos,” she said, adding that the music employed in Yakshagana has been on the lines of the Carnatic stream.

Babita then sang Yakshagana music with a pronounced south Indian classical touch, to which Roy replied in agreement—and rendered Chavittu Natakam music with the lilt of Kerala backwaters.

Roy and team presented the princess’ scene from St Sebastian, while Jyotish Krishna demonstrated the Balakreeda from the Bhagawata epic.

Udupi-based Yakshagana Kendra presents 'Chakravyuha' with Mahabharata character Abhimanyu as the protagonist at the KMB performing arts festival in Gothuruthu near North Paravur.

After that, Chavittu Natakam artistes in full costumes staged the ‘Raja Sadas’ scene in his art, focusing on the strength and vibrancy of the footwork. Babita concurred, noting that even the battle scenes in Yakshagana “are not this forceful”.

If Georgekutty Ashan dedicated his life to Chavittu Natakam, he had a Yakshagana counterpart in legendary Brahmavar Veerabhadra Naik (1906-82), the interaction noted. “Such gurus enrich and sustain art-forms,” said Roy. “Their services are invaluable.”

The Yakshagana Kendra invited Roy and his troupe for a Chavittu Natakam workshop at Udupi. Accepting it, the Chavittu Natakam actors requested the Yakshagana artistes to take part in the Chuvati festival next year.

“Meet you next December,” Babita said, as the two troupes parted.