‘Draupadi’ in a fusion of Kathakali and Flamenco

Monday, Nov 9, 2015,18:00 IST By metrovaartha A A A

New Delhi | A fusion dance drama blending classical dance Kathakali with Spanish dance Flamenco gave form to the story of ‘Draupadi’ one of the strongest characters in the epic ‘Mahabharatha’, here recently. The 75-minute dance-drama loosely-based on the horrific episode of the ‘Draupadi vastraharan’ was part of celebrations of a week-long cultural festival coinciding with the foundation day of Kerala.
It was in a way retelling the issue of commodification of the female body. The role of Draupadi was essayed by Spanish danseuse Bettina Castano using techniques of Flamenco that has its cultural moorings in southwest Europe. Flamenco is a strong dance. I am both masculine and feminine in the drama. Any where in the world, including in India, it is important that women should be strong, it is difficult using weapons to react, says Castano.
Castano initially dressed up in a multi-colour dress and changes into a black outfit after the disrobing episode. I am really proud as a dancer to perform as Draupadi. There are lot of Draupadis around. Every woman can be Draupadi at home, I want to show, that woman has to be strong, she said. The dance-drama directed by Madrid-based Cesar Lorente Raton focused on episode where the heroine in Mahabharata epic faces near-violation of her dignity.
Dusshasana, who harbours rancour against Draupadi’s husbands, tries to undress her before divine help saves her. The anti-hero is eventually killed by Bhima, who is one of Draupadi’s husbands, in the Mahabharata War. The euphoria of the husband and the wife comes as a mix of Flamenco and Kathakali movements. I was thinking of connecting both art forms without taking out the essence.
I took Draupadi from Flamenco and the other two characters — Bhima and Dushasana from Kathakali. Flamenco is very feminine even, the male characters look very feminine, says Lorento. The plot is what made both the artforms come together, he says. Castano learned to act, and she had really felt that she is doing something while doing the dance.
Women are ones who suffer in every war even if it was the Mahabharata war, the Syria war, the Afghanistan war or any where else, he adds. A fellow theatre personality in Spain had first suggested giving Kathakali a contemporary twist. I worked on the idea for almost a year before Kathakali met Flamenco on stage, he says.
Stage artists Biju Kumar and Biju Lal played the roles of green-faced Bhima and red-beard Dusshasana respectively, while two fellow Keralites played ethnic drums — Sumesh G played the chenda and Rajeev N was on the maddalam.
Kumar, the Kathakali artist who donned the character of Bhima says, We were impressed by Flamenco when we got an opportunity to see it some years back in Spain. The story we saw was similar to the one of Draupadi where a woman was attacked, but was later rescued by her lover. This struck our mind and then it was a clear way to take the Draupadi episode for this fusion.
The main aim of the fusion dance, says Kumar was to make people aware of the attacks against women in the country. The music from percussion instruments and the base guitars used in the fusion has come out very well, says Kumar. Organised by Kerala Tourism, the fusion saw the coming together of nine artistes from two continents. Juan Gotan and Jesus Garrido were on the guitar, while Indian pop star Suneeta Rao and singer Radakrishnan delivered songs in languages ranging from English to Hindi to Sanskrit to Malayalam.
The production used Kathakali’s moving-stage techniques, where Dusshasana enters the scene through the aisle and later used a part of the audience space while fighting with his enemy.