A profoundly personal full-length one-man dance and theatre piece by Jay Emmanuel.
Image: Maa written and performed by Jay Emmanuel. Photo courtesy St George's Cathedral.
Maa is a profoundly personal full-length one-man dance and theatre piece by Jay Emmanuel. Drawing on the actor and dancers personal story of loss, suffering and abuse during his childhood in India, the work shows Jays creative voice in his fight to find stability in the unstable world of today.
Emmanuel studied the Indian dance-theatre of Kathakali, a ‘story play’ genre of art and one of the major forms of classical Indian dance – one distinguished by elaborate costumes, makeup and facemasks. Traditional Kathakali performances synthesise music, vocal performance, choreography and hand and facial gestures in order to express ideas.
Emmanuel chose to omit the obviously cultural visual components of this artform, and instead presented the narrative in a more ambiguous and abstract setting and costume. Initially this added a sense of mystery to the performance, but the mystery didn’t seem to resolve as the play unfolded, which left this viewer wondering how the threads of the story connected and progressed.
Maa pays obvious homage to Dmiitry Krymnov’s Opus No. 7, presented at PIAF early this year, a stunningly visceral and surreal blend, almost alchemy, of performance art and theatre. The play attempts to bring together a similar visceral impact with its dynamic movement, rich tapestry of sound and emotional vocal interaction with external characters. What was missing in Maa however, was the finesse, sophistication and adroitness that takes lifes’ travels and traumas and translates these into a performance that brings the audience to the meanings behind the elements on stage.
There were exciting moments in the play, particularly the scene where the puppet emerged from a chrysalis of material and became a character from the protagonists past – but again the narrative and actions of the puppet were too obscure and it was difficult to discern the relevance and meaning of the puppet character.
This is not ‘safe’ theatre, and the “friction and rubbing of the traditional and contemporary forms” as stated by Emmanuel as being where his research lies underpins his design and characterisations. The attempted blend however, of physical theatre, dance and puppetry was awkward. The transformational journey from boy to man is present and the notion of trauma and pain is woven throughout the play with courage and energy. I appreciated his attempts at tackling a complex and layered set of issues and interactions, but I would have liked to have seen a more coherent approach to the work that provided more insight into his explorations.
Rating: 3 stars out of 5
Story, Choreography and Performance by Jay Emmanuel
October 14, 18, 19, 21, 26 & 28
Burt Memorial Hall, 38 St Georges Terrace, Perth