fbpx
Wednesday, January 20, 2021

Reimagining Shakespeare

Reading Time: 4 minutes

The Magic Hour explores the duality of identity through a Kathakali interpretation of Othello

The Magic Hour.Indian Link
DESDEMONA PRAYS
DESDEMONA
But while I say one prayer!
OTHELLO
It is too late.
The Magic Hour.Indian Link 
“What a nonsense play…so long it’s going on!” Face covered in Kathakali makeup, in a yellow suit topped with a fedora, our loquacious quasi master of ceremonies “Peter Pillai” has just interrupted one of the most dramatic, blood-curdling scenes of Shakespeare, the murder of Desdemona by Othello.
In this version, however, Desdemona is an Odissi dancer, who uses mudras (the language of hand gestures in Indian classical dance) as she speaks. Her first lines in the performance are in Sanskrit – she only switches to English when exhorted to do so by her father Brabantio, who, not long before, has performed a majestic Kathakali piece, in a yellow suit jacket over full dance costume (his other persona is Peter Pillai).
The Magic Hour.Indian Link
“No, we’re not doing misogynist murder mystery swami charanam…this is not the way to resolve the problem.” Pillai then amiably tells our actors to hug and make up. It’s a twist you don’t see coming, but one that makes you feel like you’ve woken up from a strange, suffocating dream. And it’s a relief, to be honest.
The Magic Hour, directed by Kathakali dancer Arjun Raina, and performed by Circero’s Circle Theatre Company (founded by actor-producer Cherian Jacob) is taglined in the program as “Shakespeare’s Othello reinvented as the death of Iago”. And it’s indeed that and more. Using the gestures, facial expressions and props of Odissi, Kathakali and the Japanese avant-garde dances of Butoh and Bodyweather, The Magic Hour playfully yet sincerely questions, reflects on and pokes holes in Shakespeare’s classic tale of jealousy and revenge. It kills Iago, but it also refashions the raw material of theatre, inserting Australian and Indian references into Shakespeare’s script, openly interrogating the work’s racial politics, and letting the dance and music of lands Shakespeare only hints at in his plays tell the story.
The Magic Hour.Indian Link
American-born Odissi dancer Lillian Warrum plays Desdemona, and opens the performance of The Magic Hour with a complex dance on Shiva that is executed with power, precision and grace. Two men come out to watch her – Othello, played by Los Angeles-trained actor Ezekiel Day, and Iago, played by physical theatre performer and Bodyweather dancer Peter Fraser. Day, dressed in army fatigues, does a solid job as the brooding, insecure Moor of Venice, but Fraser’s Iago is a testimony to the power of facial expression in dance, as he executes a piece to rhythmic music that simmers and seethes with malice, using only a black sheet and his mobile features.
The Magic Hour.Indian Link
And then of course there’s the hybrid Peter Pillai, played by Arjun Raina. Part dancer, part amiable uncle, part proud immigrant, part tortured child of colonisation, inelegant and idiosyncratic, he tells us not to mind his accent, demonstrates the nine rasas, or emotional flavours, of Indian classical dance, and declares that it’s “all that evil whitefella Iago’s fault”.
Dancing Kathakali alongside him is English Butoh and Bodyweather performer Helen Smith. Smith goes on to embody the tortured, murderous spirit of Othello, in a Butoh performance that is both passionately dramatic and deliberately subversive.
The Magic Hour.Indian Link
As Pillai tells us with glee and wonder, the black Othello is attempting to kill Desdemona as “white-faced” Helen, to the voice-over of his “colonised-Indian voice”. Showing a “black fella” to be “so cruel” is something he lashes out at: “In his play Desdemona is dead. Othello is dead…but Iago, a whitefella – not dead!”
So, for the first time, in the world of The Magic Hour, Iago dies.
And, through Lillian Warrum’s Odissi ‘Moksha’ piece, Desdemona is finally given her prayer.
The Magic Hour.Indian Link
 Photos: Darren Gill

- Advertisement -
Avatar
Aparna Ananthuni
Aparna is an aspiring writer of historical fiction and fantasy for young adults and children. She also loves reading, drawing and Indian classical music, and often develops strange obsessions like typewriter-collecting.

Related Articles

1 COMMENT

LEAVE A REPLY

Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here

Podcasts

Ep8: Indian links in Indigenous Australian poet Ali Cobby Eckermann’s life

0
To celebrate NAIDOC week 2020 (between 8-15 November) I spoke to Yakunytjatjara poet Ali Cobby Eckermann about her time in India where she taught...

Ep 7: In the case of Sushant Singh Rajput

0
  The torrid and high-octane Sushant Singh Rajput case has been fodder for Indian people and press for the last few months. The actor’s tragic...

Ep 6: The Indian LGBTQ+ community in 2020

0
  It’s been two years since the world’s largest democracy repealed the draconian Section 377 which used to allow discrimination against homosexual people. Only this...

Latest News

AUSvIND: Battered India pull off greatest Test series win of all...

0
  Ten first-choice players unavailable or injured for at least part of the series, including the talismanic captain who happens to be the best player....
dhoni, rishabh pant, rohit sharma, tim paine, r ashwin, stump mic moments, ashwin sledging, sledging, funny moments, stump mic teasing

Candid convos caught by stump mics

0
  A lot of the time cheeky stump mics catch candid conversations on the pitch that become immortalised on Youtube. Here are some of those...
cheteshwar pujara

WATCH: Pujara puts his body on the line at the Gabba

0
  A battered and bruised Indian cricket team is soldiering on as the final day of the 4th cricket test match goes to a thrilling...

Biryani Bonanza: 3 delicious recipes to try this Republic Day

0
  Talk about biryanis, and you’ll encounter way too many FAQs. Do you cook the rice and meat separately, or together? Do you use the...
curry and rice

“Stop cooking curry”: when neighbours complain about ‘smelly’ Indian food

0
  When 29-year-old Vaibhav Pokhriyal moved into his new apartment in Dee Why, he never would’ve guessed what a stir (no pun intended) his cooking...