Today our tour took us to Kanchipuram, a two hour drive from Chennai, so we could learn about a form of street theatre known as Kattaikuttu, combining dance, song, costume, and spectacle to bring to life episodes of the Mahabharata at a rural school dedicated to the art form.
This was quite fun as we got to hear a condensed version of the Mahabharata in English, discover the cultural context in which his theatre form takes place, learned a few dance steps under the tutelage of the master artist P. Rajagopal with help from his teenage students, sing in Tamil, eat a home cooked South Indian meal, and get a chance to watch the students show us various entrances.
What we're learning is clearly a theatre form-- but a) we came to India to hear stories, and we have to hear the Mahabharata in Tamil through song and dance, we will, and b) the school founder, Hanne M. de Bruin, is an academic, and knows how to spin the theory of performance so that she can claim (and rightly so) that these forms of storytelling and intimately connected to the rhythm, melody, and drama... take them away and these stories don't work--- and, this is an oral tradition we're experiencing (there's no corps of writing that the work springs from).
So... today, storytelling with a harmonium, two drums, a mukavinai (a small oboe-like instrument) and two sets of hand cymbals (talam), wooden swords, choreography, improvisation, and song. We return to the school tomorrow for another half day of workshops.
Photos and Youtube links later. This internet cafe suffers from intermittent power cuts so I'm rushing this.
Learn more here: Link
The Hindu profile of the school founder: Link