The seventh panel discussion at Women Writers’ Fest Kolkata was on creating performance pieces from literature. In conversation. Moderated by Dana Roy, the panelists were Paramita Saha, Alokananda Roy and Nivedita Bhattacharjee. The discussion veered from the struggles of putting literature on stage, understanding your limitations in this process and how to convince the audience.

How do you choose what to portray?

It is not an easy task to adapt a well-known and well-aged piece of literature on stage. Most viewers are well-versed in popular classics and stories from Indian mythology. Hence it is a challenge to engage them with a story they already know. Classical dancer Alokananda Roy, who is known for training convicts in dance, said, “We all know that dance (in terms of stage performance) is extremely dependent on text, music, light… everything put together. I specialise in dance dramas and in any dance drama is dependent on literature text of some kind. We just can’t have a drama with something meaningless. This is not just dance, it has a lot of emotions and a story behind it. Maybe, because it has a story, because there is an essence of some kind that these dance dramas were so effective for reformation of prisoners.”

Maybe, because it has a story, because there is an essence of some kind that these dance dramas were so effective for reformation of prisoners. – Alokananda Roy

Interpret within your boundaries  

Theatre actor and director Nivedita Bhattacharjee said that when you take a character from literature, you have to understand that many in the audience would have read the play or the book. “They’ve come with their own perception and if you want to break that perception, it better be worth their while. So you just can’t take up something and play it the way you want. Even throughout your play you have to justify your characterisation. So taking through literature requires that dancers or actors know their literature or the author’s or any other interpretation thoroughly, before they come into their interpretation.” She further said, “For an actor, yes, it is wonderful to have a free hand with interpreting a role, but I think the challenge increases for an actor where they have to be within a boundary. So you’ve to do your best within that boundary.”

Translating a text into a dance

Even if I am basing my work on a text, it is more to absorb the very essence of the text and to give that energy into the piece. – Paramita Saha

Certainly, it mustn’t be an easy process to take someone’s written work and bring it to life on stage, keeping its essence alive all the while. But this becomes especially challenging when the chosen art form is contemporary arts. According to contemporary dancer Paramita Saha, it is not easy to translate a story in contemporary dance. She said, “In any case, we are always going away from the text. Or for us, the text is in the body and we usually try to not do a huge amount of work based on text. But even if I am basing my work on the text, it is more to absorb the very essence of the text and to give that energy into the piece. But basically, the test is a body itself. My narrative is in my movement.”

All the three performers, however, were of the consensus that female directors or writers are kinder to male characters than male writers are to female characters.

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