The best thing about Ranan’s Those Who Could Not Hear The Music is the concept. Vikram Iyengar has been working on it for over a year. The performance premiered on March 1 at the Max Mueller Bhavan, combining music, dance and dialogue in a rare portrayal of the efforts of two musicians to cope with the loss of the faculty essential to their identities.
The text grows out of two letters: one by the master composer, Ludwig van Beethoven, explaining to his brothers his loss of hearing, and another by the musician, Julia (from Vikram Seth’s book, An Equal Music), writing to her lover, Michael, about going deaf. As the silence closes in, the intense anguish, frustration, indignation, fear and isolation of both become alike. Similar too are their determination to function as before and their struggle to revive tunes and textures from memory.
The performance begins with Julia and Beethoven on opposite corners of the stage voicing their individual woes. But after the introductory lines, their identities blur and it becomes increasingly difficult to distinguish between the two. Broken sentences, even words and gestures repeated by different characters onstage, grow into a choric lament. Something not unlike Indian classical dance where one person often plays many roles.
Beethoven’s music used in entirety or as excerpts will touch even the uninitiated. The choreography, trifle excessive at times, is remarkable. The Kathak, with improvised movements, conveys the feelings of utter hopelessness, anger and fear in a poignant manner. The mood is dark, but in between there are moments that reflect hope, determination, dignity and love that manifest themselves in the patches of claret, grey and bright pink flashing here and there from the folds of the deep black costumes that resemble traditional orchestral wear.
The director introduces a character — a woman wearing dark glasses and carrying a stick. She is Julia’s companion who supports and advises her. She is unable to see but can hear better than most others. But her disability distracts our attention from the central movement of two people rediscovering the music that is life to them, tuned by feelings, associations and memories.
Towards the end of the play, there is a choreographed piece in total silence. Music unheard is what stuns us almost like Julia’s playing does at the close of An Equal Music. She is playing without the notations before her, her eyes sometimes rest on her hands and, sometimes, are closed.The play ends with lines from the novel — “Music, such music, is a sufficient gift.”