Thursday, June 23, 2011

There's a Trace of it in Everything: Choreographer Richard Tremblay on Yoga, Kathakali Dance Theatre, and Choreographic Practice

(Richard Tremblay as Arjuna in Kathakali Dance Drama, courtesy R.Tremblay)
 "Anyway, so I went to the Himalayas and that's where I met my guru Tat Wale Baba. He lived on the banks of the Ganga the same place where the world famous guru, Mahesh Yogi first met the Beatles. So my guru had his small ashram there; and he and Mahesh Yogi were very well acquainted with another as they had the same teacher. They came from a very small family so-to-speak. But they went two separate ways. Tat Wale Baba was living in a cave. And Mahesh Yogi went the world over, to Holland and the US where he established many ashrams. So the two of them chose two very different paths. I chose to follow Tat Wale Baba. He was living in a cave. That appealed to me..." (Richard Tremblay on studying yoga in the Himalayas with Tat Wale Baba)

(Yogi Tat Wale Baba)
I t's not everyday that you speak to a choreographer who tells you that he spent a number of months studying yoga in a cave given to him by the hermetic yogi Tat Wale Baba. And this was just one of the many stories unearthed in a few hours of cross-continental file transfer with Quebecois Kathakali dancer and choreographer Richard Tremblay. At the time that I contacted him for this interview, Richard was creating new work at Kerala Kalamandalam, the prestigious university for the performing arts in Kerala, South India.

Richard Tremblay is a dancer/choreographer with a varied cultural background and a rich history from which he weaves his own personal understanding of the importance of a yoga in the life of a choreographer. Richard Tremblay is credited with being the first Canadian to have trained in a form of dance-theatre known as Kathakali, and then choreographed new, cross-cultural works using traditional Kathakali conventions. For those of you who know little about Kathakali, the sidebar this month features Into the Dreams of Heroes, an article by photographer Stuart Freedman, whose shots of life at Kerala Kalamandalam are featured in this entry.

(Richard Tremblay, courtesy Tremblay)
Richard Tremblay entered choreographic theatre in Quebec in the 1970's before turning toward Kathakali and contemporary dance. Constantly seeking out new codes in dance, he attended the Indian university for the performing arts, Kerala Kalamandalam, where he received training in Kathakali, subsequently devoting several years to performing this dance-theatre form. He founded Dance Theatre Kalashas in 1981 to do repertory and creation work in Kathakali. Its long-term artistic project is based on bringing together different cultures and aesthetics in the renewal of choreographic languages. The desired artistic result is not a fusion, combination or hybrid of different forms, but an act of creation in its own right, and resolutely contemporary. In 1988, after his Kathakali training, he created The Anger of Achilles (The Iliad), which was presented in Kerala, Bombay and Singapore. Richard Tremblay is the first choreographer from the West to contribute new works to the Kathakali repertoire. He divides his creative activity between Kathakali and contemporary dance.

He is currently working in collaboration with Bruno Paquet, a percussion composer, and with Jean-Guy Lecat, a long-time associate of Peter Brook. In its productions and creation workshops, Kalashas has collaborated with the Montreal organizations Usine C, Danse Cité, Agora de la danse and Tangente, as well as with the Centre chorégraphique national de Franche-Comté, in France, the Shastri Indo-Canadian Institute in Calgary/Delhi, the Sangeeth Natak Academy in Thrissur, Kerala, and with production organizations in Singapore.  His most recent creation, The Legends of Jil & Yill (2004-05), integrates text and music with dance. Also included in this list of contemporary dances are: Himalayas; Prayer for a Rope, a
Pope and a Rogue (2004) Courbe en Flocon de Neige
(1995), Heaps of percolation (1993), Paradox of the Burning Sky (1992), The Attracteur of Ezhikode (1991), Of Mice and Other Similar Devices (1990), and Indra (1986).

Richard Tremblay's observations about the role of yoga in the performing arts is informed by his many encounters and friendships with extraordinary artists including the late Chandralekha, the fierce, heterodox contemporary Indian choreographer who was directly influenced by yoga's physical practices. But as you will read, his discourse is equally permeated by a deep sense of his own relationship with his early yoga practice, his long relationship with the philosophy and cultural milieu of Kathakali in Kerala, and his own understanding of the yogic process through his choreographic explorations.

"Much of the work of the choreographer is not to try to put yoga into the content of choreography, but to try to put the conditions in place where the dancer can achieve the most of themselves."(Richard Tremblay)

(Bruno Paquet percussion/chenda (left), Richard Tremblay (right), photo: R.Tremblay)
(Prof. Balasubramanian at Kalamandalam instructs on mudras or hand gestures, ©Stuart Freedman)