“Karuppu is about the “kala teeka” or the black spot that is put on a new-born to ward off evil. Karuppu is black, but not evil…. it is the vision of a world born simply from the union between Prakriti (the feminine) and Purusha (the masculine). Karuppu is the ultimate form of energy.”
Having read Director’s Koumarane Valavane’s note on the play, I settled down to watch Karuppu expecting a dance drama much on the lines of what one has seen in many renditions celebrating the power of Adi Shakti.
Be prepared to put aside any stereotype you may be carrying in your head and be blown away by what is to unfold! Karuppu is stunning in its visual imagery, its evocative sound track, the sheer artistry and talent of the lead performer Ruchi Raveendran and the dexterity and skill of the Mallakhamba artistes, especially Vasanth Selvam.
The soundtrack leads the performance. Jean-Jacques Lemetre, a versatile French theatre musician and singer- songwriter, who has composed and performed the musical scores of all plays and movies of the troupe Theatre du Soleil of Ariane Mnouchkine, delivers a brilliant score that deftly guides you through a gamut of emotions. Of course, a quick update on the mythical Greek characters Iphigenie, Ophelia, Clytemnestra and Medea would help understand the context of the characters and appreciate the craftsmanship of the stage design, the lighting, the choreography and costumes, all melding together to create an experience that will stay with you for a long time.
I am not so sure about the efficacy of the opening preamble in the dark, as the Spirit of the Universe addresses us about the forces of Matter continuously clashing with the Spirit and that she alone will remain immutable and eternal. The bathing and anointing of Iphigenie as she is being prepared for sacrifice would have worked just as well – it is poignant, heart-wrenching and the appearance of the Father, almost Satyr or Satan like, is ominous and tender. The drama heightens as she walks away from light into darkness, a lone figure holding red petals that get strewn along her path, like droplets of sacrificial blood. There is the symbolic donning of a pig’s mask over her head that is removed, to denote her sacrifice. This bursts into one of the most dramatic climaxes as the headless corpse moves through various stages of agony and rage, aided by energetic musical crescendos, to merge into a huge wave of dark matter, that finally gets absorbed back into light.
The silence that follows is much needed.
To get your breath back, to shift gear to the tender coupling of lovers around the Mallakhamba and to receive Ophelia as she slowly slips into a state of delusion and imbalance. The image of the barren tree branch in the foreground, as her battered body is tossed amongst the waves like a limp rag doll, leaves a striking visual.
And then there is Clytemnestra’s revenge with the strangling of Agamemnon in his bath, the suddenness of which leaves you a bit stunned! Including the transition of his corpse into a dog as two more dogs join him to herald the entrance of Medea – bloodied and revengeful. That’s when the stage seems to overflow with destruction! Bloodied entrails everywhere, Medea gorging on whatever she can get her hands on, almost unstoppable like Kali, mocking Jason’s grief. This is when I mentally stepped out of the play.
The last 10 minutes were not very clear to me. It seems as if the protagonist is merging back into Dark Matter and in her poetic twirling on the ‘sands of time’, symbolizes the eternal tussle between Energy and Consciousness. As she collapses on stage and is unmoving, the light fades to black and you think the play is over. Suddenly a flicker of light, one more and some more and the background lights up with artistes carrying lamps. Slowly the Dark is absorbed into Light.
Based on age-old Dravidian cultural rituals depicting a universe that absorbs all imbalances like a black hole, from which rebirth of everything is possible, Karuppu is a dance drama that definitely pushes boundaries and draws you into a primeval power play that is at once fascinating and disturbing.