Theatre artists adapt Ibsen into folklore

New Delhi: Folklore from various parts of India will feature in plays starring Bollywood personalities such as Ila Arun along with top theatre artists from New York, Norway and Lithuania, as they interpret iconic playwright Henrik Ibsen`s works in a fest beginning here this month.

Works by the 19th-century theatre-director and poet, considered to have pioneered modern drama with his realistic and critical approach has, like Shakespeare, been a favourite among theatre and film directors worldwide.

Ila Arun, adapts Ibsen`s complex 1888 play ‘Lady from the Sea’ with the help of Rajasthani`s popular pictorial art form ‘Pabuji ki Phad’. Titled ‘Mareechika’ (Illusion), the story is narrated through balladeers, who use a Phad (a painted scroll).

"To break away from the limitations and rigidity of this art form, we employed folk diction, music dance and costumes which energises the narrative making it more vibrant and giving soul to its characters," says Arun, who is well-known for her Rajasthani folk and pop songs.

Along with Arun, the week-long Ibsen festival beginning in the capital on November 30, would also stage ‘Peer Gynt’ by director from Kerala, Deepan Sivraman, whose ‘Spinal Cord’ picked up top prizes at the Meta theatre awards earlier this year.

Sivraman`s loosely adapted Indian verison of Ibsen`s work is set in a mental asylum with God as gatekeeper, has a strong visually narrative ritualistic structure.

Kannada theatre veteran B Jayshree adapts ‘The Master Builder’ with ‘Balura Gudikara’ in the traditional Veera Ghaase folk format. "We found that it would be difficult to portray it in the traditional Kannada theatre form and thus Jayshree took the play to the 14the century to make the play contemporary," says director, Ibsen festival, Nissar Allana.

"In 21st century the issues of social justice as well as the concept of freedom has changed from the times Ibsen lived 150 years ago. There are different ways of looking at freedom
now. Most of Ibsen`s narrative is connected to folklore in a very indirect way. We have tired to bring all this in focus at this year`s festival," Allana told reporters.

New York-based director Lee Breuer`s play ‘The Doll House’ will be shown at the festival in a film form.

"The logistics of bringing the cast and set to Delhi was enormous so we decided to show the film instead. The director and his assistant would be here however to talk about the play," says Allana.

Bruer`s production attempts to make a postmodern feminist statement. "He has cast all male roles with little people and the female roles are cast with normal height women. The set is all doll sized and the subject is about a woman finally coming to the realization that she cannot live as her husband`s pet possession anymore," explains the director.

‘The Mountain Bird,’ by Norway`s actor-director Lars Oyno is incidentally the world premiere of Ibsen`s unfinished opera libretto from 1859. It unfolds the mystery of Ibsen`s own folkloristic impulse in a grand ritual.

The rich cultural heritage and a traditionally based performance language in India provides fertile canvas to depict and expand the dimensions of Ibsen`s plays.

Ila Arun points out, "In the execution of Mareechika, we took recourse to fantasy which gave it a new dimension and at the same time used conventional beliefs and rituals that
Rajasthan is steeped in."

"Just as the limitless expanse of the sea allows a person’s thoughts to extend to the horizon, so does the desert," she adds.

Meanwhile, the week-long ticketed festival in Delhi will also feature seminars, paper readings on the central theme of ‘Rituals and Ibsen’ as well as a two day acting workshop by Lee Breuer.