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Review Dispatch, 1-8: Healing and Homesickness
In India, Poorva Televises the Revolution for Asian Women Artists
By Maura Nguyen Donohue
Copyright 2003 Maura Nguyen Donohue
NEW DELHI -- It has
never been so obvious how important artistic expression is for revolution,
healing and celebration as it has been over the past five days at
Poorva: the Asian Women Directors Theatre Festival.
Beginning last Friday
and concluding this Friday, Poorva, the fourth chapter of the Asian
Women and Theatre Conference (with prior festivals in Japan and
the Philippines), is showcasing 20 productions by women directors
from India, Cambodia, Vietnam, Japan, Malaysia and the Philippines.
Following the festival there will be a four-day conference to encourage
dialogue and debate around concerns for women artists. The event
is organized by theatre resource center Natarang Prathishthan, along
with the National School of Drama and the Indian Council of Cultural
Relations. It has support from the Ford Foundation, which also supported
a 10-member delegation of Asian Diaspora artists based in the U.S.
(including one Vietnamese Irish American instigator of improvisational
jam sessions) to attend as festival observers and conference participants.
There have already been
12 different productions presented, all followed by a morning-after
discussion series. Day 2 discussion brings us right into some of
the nitty gritty about the need for and potential dangers of a 'women's'
festival. The discussion moves through concerns about breeding mediocrity
to acknowledgement of the impelling need to correct the inherent
"original negligence" in a system that can allow a 'national' theater
festival to occur without a single female director. It becomes overwhelmingly
apparent that artists coming from each of the represented countries
are fighting similar though distinct battles for inclusion and representation.
As I think cumulatively
about the many works I've witnessed in the rush of the past five
days, it also becomes overwhelmingly apparent that it is women primarily
who suffer the immediate consequences of global, state and/or personal
violence. Of course, the recent 'riots' (actually carefully
orchestrated pogroms), and violent sexual subjugation of women in
the western state of Gujarat are on everyone's minds. How could
you ignore stories of a woman eight months pregnant who begged to
be spared only to have her assailants slit open her stomach, pull
out her fetus and slaughter it before her eyes, or of a young woman
and her three-month old son, killed because a police constable directed
her to 'safety' and she found herself instead surrounded by a mob
which doused her with kerosene and set her and her baby on fire?
The role of the arts and activism has never seemed more of an imperative,
as the performances here bear out.
From India, Kirti Jain's
"Aur Kitne Tukde" looks at the holocaust of Partition, when in 1947
Pakistan was created as a separate state for Muslims and roughly
500,000 people were killed, 12 million migrating between India and
Pakistan. Jain focuses on the experience of four women (three with
real-life models) who survived gang-rape, mutilation and forced
exile under the patriarchal concept of "honor." She skillfully crafts
the movement on stage so that we are brought from a children's game
suddenly into the re-creation of mass female suicides, or a playful
game of tug-o-war turns into the dance of a woman being dragged
from her home. In one horrific sequence during which a Sikh village
has been surrounded by Muslims, we see a sword crashing clay vases
out of the upraised hands of young women onto the ground, portraying
the sacrifice that the men have decided to make of the unmarried
girls of their own village for the sake of their community's 'honor.'
From the Phillipines,
the Mebuyan Peace Project's stunning "Panaw" presents a domestic
violence survivor's spiritual journey to Mt. Malakinay. The ensemble
of six women uses rousing music employing indigenous vocal and instrumental
techniques and Mindanaoan inspired dance to transport the viewers
into a truly visceral response. My response was so physical I can
still only describe it as an encompassing rush of homesickness for
an unknown place.
India's Usha Ganguli
presents "Rudali," an exquisitely staged production that follows
a middle-aged woman's passage out of poverty via the unusual profession
of hired mourner for the elaborate death rituals for the rich. Ganguli's
eye for the composition of a scene and the piece's creative sonic
transitions raise this work above the mass of other compelling but
notably more static plays. From the same country, the dynamic Maya
Krishna Rao places her own body and voice at the crux of local and
international politics as she riffs and weaves her way through "A
Deeper Fried Jam." Rao, a trained dancer and well-known stand-up
comedian, acknowledges the plight of women in a city struggling
through significant physical harassment of women, but not as a victim.
Dead serious, a lightning-rod for strength defying pre-conceptions
of gender and age, she reminds us that women, though victimized,
don't need to remain victims.
Dancer, choreographer, and writer Maura Nguyen Donohue is the
Dance Insider's Asia bureau chief. To read more about Donohue and
her dance company, Maura Nguyen Donohue/In Mixed Company, please
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