Director Anna Dora Dorno behind actor Nicola Pianzola at Kumartuli. Picture by S.Laurenzana
An Italian experimental theatre group has found inspiration for its next project in Calcutta.
Sponsored by The Italian Cultural Institute and the Calcutta-based Arshinagar Project, Instabili Vaganti has been wowing audiences in Delhi, Santiniketan, Bangalore and Pondicherry.
But a visit to Calcutta swept the artistes off their feet and they decided to include some things Calcuttan in their upcoming mammoth project, Megalopolis.
Director Anna Dora Dorno and actor Nicola Pianzola, the joint founders of the company, were touring Calcutta and Santiniketan with their production on a steel plant releasing extremely high levels of toxins causing disability, disease and deaths as in their presentation, Made In Ilva, when they felt the same "oppressive factory grind" in Calcutta.
"It is a huge city, yet there is so little space. The roads are narrow and you are constantly fighting with other human beings and cars for a little personal space. And the noise! The constant flow of rhythm... living with it must be very tough," said Nicola, who has trained in street theatre, circus acrobatics and physical theatre in Poland.
Despite all pollution, the sounds and the lack of space, Anna found Calcutta "fascinating".
Both agreed that Calcutta was somehow "similar to Naples". "There are so many kinds of buildings, layers and layers of history, traditions that overlap and mingle.... The streets are alive with people and one can find everywhere their link with art and culture," explained Nicola.
Their tour of Calcutta began with steaming cups at the College Street Coffee House, where Sudipta Dawn of Arshinagar briefed them on its iconic status. "We could feel it in the air," said Nicola.
In Kumartuli, the idols and their makers affirmed their belief in Calcutta as "a vibrant cultural centre". The boat ride from Bagbazar ghat to Howrah was not at all what they had expected. "It was 7.30pm and there were lots of people. It was dark and we were travelling down the river with so many people and again when we got off there were all these people waiting on the bank... it was strange but nice," said Anna, who before training to be an actor had been a visual artist and continues to push borders of visualising ideas and feelings in her directorial ventures.
Megalopolis is, in the words of Nicola and Anna, an "experimental project investigating the contemporary creation in the global era".
The research focused on the effects produced by the current globalisation and the consequent economic crisis on the cultural tradition and the identity of the societies. The project is being developed through workshops aimed to produce performances characterised by a strong connection with places and people in the biggest metropolis of the planet. The task is to let individualities emerge within the "massification" process. The project foresees the collaboration of musicians, media and visual artists.
"From Calcutta we will bring into the project one particular aspect of this city, which is the fact that its population is living its urban spaces as home spaces, in an inner and intimate relation with them. The streets, the inner courts of the fascinating buildings, each so different from the other, are full of life and every corner is like a small community.
To the people of Calcutta their city is a natural environment. They are integrated with this vibrant megalopolis, the blood of its veins. That's why compared to other cities we have visited in India, Calcutta is the one that shows immediately its strong identity and character," Nicola said.
Floated in 2004, Instabili Vaganti focuses on experimental research in physical theatre and performing arts. Characterised by the organic flow of action, original dramaturgy, music, new media and visual arts, they aim at poetic productions that are able to communicate strong, emotional messages that create an impact.
The duo promise to be back in Calcutta soon to begin collaborating on the project.
"The real give and take with Calcutta performers... I think practitioners here are already into or eager to open out, explore beyond the older spoken plays. Here we not only had people coming up to congratulate us, they came with suggestions and new ideas," said Nicola, whose company has won several critics' and jury awards at acclaimed festivals.