Thursday, November 24, 2011

Soul in Sole and Sand

Review of the theatre production "Step by Step" by Mahima A Jain

There is earth, water, wind, light and all this entwined with human life -- and “Step by Step” tells you the intimate connection among them all. It is a non-textual, physical theatre about the poetry of life. It metaphorically explores the connection of man and earth, and the importance of Earth in life’s ventures.

A large portion of the audience at the Goethe Institut (former Max Mueller Bhavan) , where the play was staged on Monday, were school kids who cheered and laughed at the sequences on show, which must have seemed comical to them, oblivious to the greater ideas the play presented. Sure enough, “Step by step” was not just entertainment, but an epiphany of life and earth.

The performance overplays the rudiments of biosphere: blowing wind to cause motion, pouring water for growth of plants, sunflower in clouds, stepping into water, treading on toes, flying, and singing, feeling the earth, leaving imprints behind.
“Step by Step” opens with Silvia and Pahl asking the audience to puff at them. And when there is enough “wind”, the artists scud and waft around the stage, creating motion using “energy” from the audience. The production picks up from there in a devised manner, from motion to development to contact to accomplishment.

Asked where she got the idea from, Silvia said, “I was meditating and then it struck me – our feet are in direct contact with the earth and thus to everything in the world.” Pahl explained that children grow up in a virtual world and so the idea was to give them a taste of reality and the experience it has to offer.
While the simplicity of stage elements directs attention to the artists, the performance itself is a fusion of varied art forms: ventriloquism to musical instruments, light-and-sound to slapstick. Both artists deftly use the toy piano, melodica, glockenspiel and Kalimba (thumb piano) at various points. They ingeniously create and incorporate live sound effects, in par with a Foley artist’s work in a studio. Barring one German song about flying on swings, the production hardly relies on speech or dialogues.

In the end, Silvia steps into a patch of wet soil, glorifying the tactile and auditory experience. She steps out and walks across a white sheet – step by step. Pahl follows, but not on foot. Instead he closes his fists, dips it into the wet soil and then presses the side of his fist on the sheet, imprinting a smaller set of foot prints. The audience follows suit and while kids frolic in wet earth, the proposal of the play dawns upon me - surpassing motion and development, leaving imprints behind.

“Step by Step – The course that life takes” by theatre 3 hasen oben is a creation of artist-directors Wilmanns Pahl and Silvia Klaus and is co-directed by Gunther Baldaff. Since 1998 “Step by Step” has been staged sixty times.

Sunday, April 17, 2011

The Driving Orchestra and the Moving Play

Mahima. A. Jain

“What?” I snapped.
“Nothing,” the driver replied.
“No what! What did you want to say anna?”
“I don’t think you can drive on Mount Road.”
“Oh really? You don’t let me take the car and you don’t want to drive me around. How am I supposed to commute?” I asked him.
“What ‘commute’?” He asked.
“Never mind.” I replied. I reversed the car, he reluctantly showed me how much to reverse and where.
When I was safely out of the parking lot and as I was raising the window I said, “I knew how to reverse. You did not have to show me.”
He shrugged and let me go.
I stopped at signals. Shifted gears from one to four and then back again. I braked, I used the clutch. I honked and after four signals I learnt to swear. It was fun.
It felt like I was in a movie or in a novel. It felt like independence and victory of feminism. It felt like I was the heroine, the lead, the premier, the cynosure of my world. Every time I stepped on the brake, the world followed behind me. Every time I moved forward they took my cue. I was a director of a play. I could call it anything. From “Traffic at Greams Road” to “The Signal at Egmore” or even “The Pause for the BMW”.
I took a turn on to Mount Road. The voice of the driver echoed in my head, louder than the honks of the “27 D” behind me.
I told myself the same thing I had told him, “Never mind”.
Soon I learnt that no one was driving at the safe “forty per hour” speed limit. I too raced. I also learnt that I was not the conductor of this orchestra at Mount Road. Here everyone was driven by a single motive, get out of here. It was not a problem.
At the signal, I slowed the vehicle at the stop line. Happy about not stopping the engine, I put the vehicle on neutral as the timer started counting backwards from hundred. In the rear view mirror, which I had learnt the use of; I saw a nice car with four circles as a symbol slowdown behind me. I closed my eyes and tried to recall what that car was.
“Audi!” I squealed with excitement just as my car moved forward involuntarily accompanied with a loud thud. I swiftly turned around and saw that the Audi had bumped into my car. I got out of the car and closed the door behind me.
“What the hell? You think you can do anything! What is this! You broke the lights? Get out of the car!” I banged my fist to prove my point. The car purred lightly on neutral.
The man stepped out of the car; he was a middle aged person with greying hair, beige pants and a blue button down shirt. He quietly apologised for his mistake and offered to pay for the loss. He said it was his first time with the car and he was yet to understand how it worked. I felt we were equals but I did not say so. There was not a single scratch on his car even though his car had bumped into mine.
He gave me his business card. The occupants of two buses, a share auto, three autos, five bikes and eight cars watched the show. Sub-consciously I was the heroine once again. I took the card and got back to my car with one look at the signal, ten seconds remaining.
I clenched the handle of the door and pulled it. It did not open. I saw the keys dangling in the keyhole. I could still feel the purr of the engine and the mist the AC forming on the closed windows. I clenched my head and once again banged my fist into some random part of the car.
The signal turned green and everyone behind me started honking. All the slang I had used a little while back on others was being re-directed at me. The gentleman from the Audi got down and came towards me; I murmured “The return of the Audi-man”. It felt like I was the heroine, the lead, the premier, the cynosure of my world – finally - but not the way I had pictured. I was not in the car and yet the world had to take my cue. I was the director of a play. I could call it anything. From “Disaster at Mount Road” to “The Lost Keys” or even “One Idiot”.