Conversation with Sri Prabal Gupta about his recent dance production "Cleopatra"
"Cleopatra", a new dance production choreographed by renowned Kathakali exponent Prabal Gupta was recently presented to Bangalore audience as a part of his Silver Jubilee Celebration and won an all round appreciation. The event was supported by ICCR in collaboration with National Gallery of Modern Arts.
Prabal Gupta- Cleopatra
A production like Cleopatra in classical dance is rare and a herculean task and hence I approached Prabal for his insights and views on his attempts to execute this research experimental production. Apart from Cleopatra, he also presented lady Macbeth, an adaptation of William Shakespeare's Macbeth in Kathakali last year to commemorate 450 years of Shakespeare.
His Chitrangada- the story of a warrior princess in love with Pandava Prince Arjuna, was another powerful character that he chose earlier where the narrative was readily suitable for an Indian classical dance form, though challenge was not less.
How you chose Cleopatra for your dance production?
I was extremely bewildered as what to do unique for my silver jubilee celebration.I was thinking of working on Desdemona from Shakespeare's Othello when Guru Smt. Usha Venkateshwaran ji advised me to work upon Cleopatra, as no one has attempted it. I seriously thought about it and requested Shankar Rajaram ji to write a script choosing verses from Shakespeare's Anthony and Cleopatra. It was hard as the drama is not very easy, much tougher than Macbeth or Othello. But thanks to God that all happened perfectly.
Prabal Gupta - Macbeth
Obviously different from Chitrangada... but can you add a few contrasting points?
Sri Rabindranath Tagore's Chitrangada is very different. Kabi Guru Rabindranath Tagore was a contemporary poet and hence most of his works reflects the contemporary society. Chitrangada is not an exception. It is an erotic love story.
The character Chitrangada is Indian and Cleopatra is a Western character. Did you face any challenge choreographing a Western Character? Having said that I won't mind if you throw light about Chitrangada and lady Macbeth.
Choreographing a Western character in the genre of Kathakali was extremely challenging. After the verses were written, I sat with my Guru Sri Sadanam Balakrishnanji to decide on the ragas. The ragas were chosen based on the moods of the character and the scenes. Composing the music with the lyrics written in Sanskrit was nevertheless an easy task. The music is composed by Sadanam Sivadasan in the traditional Kathakali style of singing. The choreography is done by myself.
Chitrangada is though a character from Mahabharata is rewritten by Tagore. Tagore's work portrays the contemporary society. All the songs of Chitrangada has an explicit sexual lurch. Chitrangada was brought up as a man devoid of all feminine attributes unless she sees Arjuna, the most seductive man on earth and fell in love.
Arjuna rejects her...because of her manly looks. Chitrangada decides to teach Arjuna that beauty is not mere physical. She approaches Madana to transform her into a beautiful damsel. She is transformed into a seductress. Arjuna falls for her, follows are passionate scenes of love making. But when Arjuna hears about the real Chitrangada, he wants to her. Chitrangada transform to her own self. Arjuna understands that beauty isn't mere physical.
(Comparing with Cleopatra) Cleopatra is the most beautiful woman on Earth perhaps even the damsels of heaven would look like servants beside her. She was in love with Anthony, Leave aside the political backdrop..the story is also relevant to the contemporary theme. But unlike Chitrangada which ends in a union, Cleopatra ends on a tragic note. Cleopatra cannot bear the death of Anthony. .who dies out of a misunderstanding. Cleopatra makes the poisonous snake bite them and dies too
You dance Kathakali and your head gear for Cleopatra is of different tradition
Cleopatra wears a head gear with a snake. Now if I have to fit into Kathakali format, I felt choosing the Nangiar Koothu Kireetam would be apt for the character. Many Kathakali aficionados were present among the rasikas. They praised me for choosing the same.
What was the reception for the performance?
I never expected that I will have a house full show
Thanks Prabal Gupta ji. I expected the tremendous reception. Wish you all the best and Yes, a big thank you for your insights
Prabal Gupta, Cleopatra, Papers, Interactive, Report, Kathakali, Dance Production, Bangalore, Sep2015, Prabal Gupta, Sep2015, chitrangada, macbeth, kathakali,conversation