Wreaking revenge in theatre-dance work The Blind Age

The Blind Age, based on the Hindi verse play Andha Yug, will be presented as a mix of dance and theatre.
The Blind Age, based on the Hindi verse play Andha Yug, will be presented as a mix of dance and theatre.PHOTO: BERNIE NG

Theatre-dance production The Blind Age is about the wreaking of revenge and how there is no victory in violence

When war breaks out, is there ever right and wrong? What happens when chaos rules and law and morality are lost amid destruction?

The Blind Age by Chowk Dance Productions hopes to ask those questions.

The dance and theatre work is choreographed and co-directed by the company's artistic director, Raka Maitra, in collaboration with co-director and dramaturge T. Sasitharan, who is also the director of the Intercultural Theatre Institute.

The show, which is part of Esplanade's annual Indian arts festival Kalaa Utsavam, is based on the Hindi verse play Andha Yug (1954) by Dharamvir Bharati.

It is set on the last day of a great war, in which both sides are left devastated, but neither is willing to accept responsibility for what has happened. In an act of revenge, one of the survivors unleashes a powerful weapon, but no one comes forward to condemn his actions.

Sasitharan says: "It's a time when there are no authorities, no gods, the rulers are blind, the people are afraid. So how do you take sides? Whose side do you belong to?"

Although it was written six decades ago, he sees it as very relevant to the times. "It's all about the wreaking of revenge and how in getting revenge there is no victory," he adds.

"It is so resonant with everything that's happening now, with the Isis (Islamic State in Iraq and Syria) in the Middle East. Sometimes I will look at the headlines and think, 'That's something that could fit into the play', with all that violence."

While the original Andha Yug was a play written in verse, The Blind Age will be presented as a mix of dance and theatre. Six classically trained dancers from Chowk will be working with six actors from the Intercultural Theatre Institute, an independent theatre school which offers diplomas in Intercultural Theatre (Acting).

Maitra says that although The Blind Age is a piece she enjoyed reading, it took her a while to translate the text into movement.

"It didn't happen the first time, but if you keep reading it, it's poetry, and a lot of it is very strong visually, so you can see the movement."

Although Maitra is trained in the classical Indian dance form of Odissi, the choreography of the piece will be contemporary and borrow elements from other art forms, such as the Greek chorus.

"They will dance, they will speak, and the chorus plays off the actors," says Sasitharan. "But the movement of the actors is much more like dance than physical theatre, it's much more stylised. What you're going to see here are dance and theatre elements juxtaposed on stage. They will still maintain their individual qualities."

The Blind Age will not just be a combination of theatre and dance, but also incorporate live music from sound artist Bani Haykal and classical Indian musicians. Haykal's electronically generated music will provide the main melody, while classical music will be layered over it. Maitra says she felt that Haykal's unique sound is necessary "because of the nature of the play, I thought we needed some kind of soundscape which was not just classical and beautiful".

The set will also be gritty, sharp-edged and made of iron. It is designed by Khairuddin Hori, a curator and visual artist who was recently appointed deputy programming director at the contemporary art centre, Palais de Tokyo, Paris.

"It's quite minimalist and modern, but dark - we told him we wanted an apocalyptic look," says Maitra.

The darkness of the set is reflective of the ambiguous morality of the play.

Sasitharan says: "As you enter the world of the characters, you will realise there's no right side. It's not a play with a message, we don't want to tell the audience this side is right and that side is wrong, but we want to complicate the issue of what 'rightness' and 'wrongness' are in a situation like this."

lting@sph.com.sg