Perth-based actor Jay Emmanuel’s captivating tribute to his Maa

Perth-based actor puts aside early trauma to find himself in art

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Photo: Mustafa Al Mahdi

Every work of art requires passion and hard work, but when the story is close to the artist’s heart, it reflects in his work and one can tell it apart. Every second of Maa, a full-length dance-theatre piece performed by Jay Emmanuel, was a captivating and heart-wrenching theatrical work recited by him through creative elements.

In the production, Jay made wonderful use of dance, music, a few props, a simple black board and paint, to tell his story and keep the audience glued to their seats for 60-odd minutes. A gripping and affecting tale of childhood brutality, it is redemptive at the end – and a testimony of how liberating can art be.

For this production, Jay teamed up with award-winning director Phil Thomson from Company Dramaturg, Ochre Contemporary Dance Company, and internationally acclaimed composer Tao Issaro, well known composer/performer, Daksha Seth Dance Company.

Photo: Mustafa Al Mahdi

Narrating the incidents which inspired him to create Maa, Jay recollects his childhood as he spoke with Indian Link. “At four, my father passed away, and during those days in India, it was taboo when the male died; the woman was blamed as if she had brought bad luck to the family… so we were thrown out by our family and were on the streets. I thought I was lucky then to find an older woman who agreed to take care of us. In exchange for this favour of shelter and food my mother had to be her slave. I realised that wasn’t luck but the beginning of a chapter where only my resilience could help me. When my mum left us to qualify herself so she could feed me and my younger brother, I had to take on the role of carer for this woman and the nightmare began.”

Maa is a poetry which recites the story of those two years when Jay’s mother was away. “It was a very difficult decision for her to leave us, but it was important because if she hadn’t gone and done what she did, we would still be in that place.”

Photo: Mustafa Al Mahdi

Only sheer brilliance can make a solo performance so effective. “The energy came from somewhere else, may be deep within as it was a personal story,” Jay revealed. “It was draining no doubt, but fulfilling. This was special as it encompassed many elements. The style was also influenced by the training that I had in Kathakali; from painting, which I was always interested in, and of course the narrative itself.” 

It is clear that art has been therapeutic in the life of this young actor. Today Jay Emmanuel is the Artistic Director for the Cathedral’s new St George’s Dance and Theatre programme. Born in India and raised in Australia, Jay is a graduate of the prestigious Jacques Lecoq School in Paris, whose alumni include industry greats Geoffrey Rush, Simon McBurney and Ariane Mnouchkine.

Photo: Mustafa Al Mahdi

After graduation, he beat over a thousand dancers to participate in Radhouane El-Meddeb’s Heroes Prelude, the first dance work ever at France’s Pantheon. After two years with El-Meddeb he returned to India for a period of artistic research, and worked with the legendary Ariane Mnouchkine/Theatre du Soleil. Last year he presented at the Delhi International Arts Festival. In 2017, he directed Biryani in collaboration with Palme D’or winning actor Kali Srinivasan and Tao Issarro. 

Maa has been Jay’s most personal work ever and solo debut in Australia. It is a traumatic story of separation and grit, which ends on a positive note.

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Romea Promodh
A freethinker by nature, a writer by interest and a health professional by passion. She draws inspiration from creativity and believes it as the ultimate human expression.