| The artistes work out under Guidi’s watchful eye. Picture by Pabitra Das
An exchange of languages, a sharing of culture and the birth of an art form. European Live Arts Network (ELAN) has been doing that for the past 15 years, and is here for the first time in Calcutta. Not just a stop in the India: City Limits project tour, but in fact, the only place the members feel, is “just right” for a performance.
Twelve city-based artistes and performers, from all walks of life, have enrolled themselves in the 10-day workshop, from November 7, organised in collaboration with Seagull Arts and Media Resource Centre, which will culminate in a performance at Sovabazar Rajbari, on November 17, backed by the British Council.
“We never travel with a finished product, just a style of working,” explains Firenza Guidi, the Milan-born founder and artistic director of the Cardiff-based performance training, research and production company. “Everywhere we go, it’s with the aim of shaping something new that cannot be reproduced anywhere else. Hence, the ambience is very important. We always perform outdoors, and inculcate the surrounding sights and sounds. We work with the environment, not against it,” says Guidi.
Calcutta is particularly challenging, because of the variety of sights and sounds — birds chirping, dogs running around, music blaring in one corner and someone praying in another, clothes hanging from a line. “Another important aspect is the architecture, because it brings out the history of the place. And I like to play with space. But the main tool is body language,” she adds.
The three other core members of ELAN on the India tour are Italian pianist Guisi Bisantino, Welshman Dylan Williams and another founder member and clarinet player David Murray, a Scotsman. “The uniqueness of ELAN is that no member is good at just one thing. We are all involved in several areas and participate in the entire process, from the costumes and lighting to performing,” smiles Guidi.
The joys of creation — encompasing the classics to the contemporary — are evident when she talks about the upcoming project, entitled wwWoyzcek, based on Georg Buchner’s play Woyzeck. “We’ve done this before, but in a different setting. This time it will definitely be equally interesting. I am very excited. It’s a wonderful experience, starting from scratch and worth being on tour seven to eight months a year.
“Although we did workshops in Delhi and Bangalore, our feelings were mixed. There was an essential element missing. The different aspects of life were very segregated, and there wasn’t much of a synthesis. But in Calcutta, there is a beautiful and comforting mix between the old and the new and there is definitely a tangible feeling of being in the heart of a city, which is full of culture,” she says.
Kathak dancer Vikram Iyengar is one of the collaborators and participants of the project. He met Guidi and her troupe at a performance two years ago, at the University of Wales, where he was an MA student in performing arts. He has performed with her in Wales and Italy several times since. “With her as director, you have the freedom to develop your style and experiment to your heart’s content. She helps you discover your skills and grow as an artist. That is what I had hoped for when we planned this tour.”
And after five “wonderful weeks”, it’s back home to Cardiff for Guidi and her group.