The Annex

September 16 - 19, 2004

Ishara Puppet Theatre
Director: Dadi Pudumjee
Projection Design: Vishal Dar
Music & Sound Design: Sawan Dutta

Ishara Puppet Theatre from India, widely regarded as the country's leading modern puppet theater, will perform the American debut of a new work, "Transposition," a visual performance piece, September 16 to 19 as part of the La MaMa Puppet Series Festival. The work, directed by Dadi Pudumjee, is based on an Indian story from the Vetalpanchvinasati as interpreted by Rashna Imhasly Gandhy through her book, "The Psychology of Love." The show has three large puppet figures with dancers playing three human counterparts and employs a dramatic musical score and digital projections.

With the La MaMa Puppet Series Festival, the formative East Village theater once again takes its place as a leading US entry point for artists from around the world, and where the international influence on New York artists is most on display. This festival features US premieres of multicultural works from India, Poland, Bali, Japan and the Czech Republic in addition to two that, while crafted in New York, are brimming with international art forms. One production is a significant revival: the series culminates October 7 to 10 with "Motel," the puppet play of "America Hurrah," Jean-Claude van Itallie's trilogy, which was originally presented by La MaMa in 1965 and is now widely regarded as the watershed Off-Broadway play of the Sixties. The festival is supported by The Henson International Festival of Puppet Theater and utilizes all three of La MaMa's performance theaters.

"Transposition" is a new interpretation of Thomas Mann's "Transposed Heads," which was itself inspired by the Sanscrit tales from the "Vetalpanchabinasati." The Ishara Puppet Theater draws on the work of Rashna Imhasly Gandhy through her book, "The Psychology of Love," which uses myth and personal experience to direct the reader towards understanding love.

The play deals with illusions of love and life and the issue of universal peace. It tells the story of Nanda and Shridhaman, young male friends who embody opposite qualities. Nanda is hearty and strong, a sensual, physically active man; Shridhaman is quieter and more thoughtful. Traveling together one day, they come across Sita, a beautiful young woman bathing unawares. Nanda looks on with earthly delight, while Shridhaman grows increasingly uncomfortable. This paves the way for an exploration of human sensibility, of passions verses intellect. Shridhaman quickly falls in love with Sita, and they later marry. However, Sita loves Nanda. The lives of the three protagonists begin to unravel into the fantastical. The mythical figures Kama Dev (the god of love) and Kali (god of creation and destruction) appear to direct the lives of the couple and their friend. As the conflict between the heart and the mind heightens into envy, rupture seems inevitable. As their heads are swapped back and forth, each man learns to see through his opposite's eyes. Ultimately, it becomes difficult to tell the two friends apart.

Ishara Puppet Theater is now recognized as India's premier creative puppet company. Dadi Pudumjee has been lauded for his subtle political satire and the freshness of his approach. He has worked with several styles of puppetry, collaborated with noted dancer Astad Deboo, and encouraged new puppeteers through his education programs. Apart from being the recipient of several awards, he was vice president of UNIMA (Union International de la Marionette) from 1992 to June, 2004. Ishara Puppet Theater has toured widely within India, as well as in Europe, America and the Far East. The company has worked on television productions and topical satire in India, and provided shows for the Godrej Centenary Pavillion Trade Fair, along with the televised Inauguration of the Khajuraho Millenium Celebrations in 1999, watched by an estimated 35 million.

Dadi Pudumjee has been described as "a strikingly individual designer of puppets and masks" by Design Digest. The Pioneer praised his recent production, "Images of Truth" (on the ideology of Mahatma Ghandi), for its "simple but rigorous 'thinking through' of the aesthetics of representation," and for applying "a welcome freshness into a subject by the dutiful clichés that years of obeisance have generated." As an Indian puppeteer, Pudumjee follows the tradition of a modern day 'kathputliwala' - literally a puppet master - a traveling performer whose origins date back to the Mughal courts, and who still commands widespread popularity today. "Transposition" will incorporate some Japanese puppetry techniques alongside modern and traditional Indian methods.

The show will take the form of a nonverbal piece, punctuated by dance and movement. Although drawn from Sanskrit tales, the few poems recited during the show will be in English. The production will feature original music by the talented young composer Sawan Dutta, who uses various musical traditions from the East, from specific melodies to Sanskrit chanting, vocals and percussion. Dadi Pudumjee's set design depends on an innovative use of stretched fabric and geometric shapes, engineered to accommodate a projection scheme made by Vishal Dar, a graduate of the Design school at UCLA.

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