By Shevlin Sebastian
Ode Rosset climbs up the pole, stops, turns her face downwards while stretching her legs skywards. Then she turns again and goes to the top of the pole. Then kalaripayattu artiste Kishor climbs up the pole, stops midway and stretches his body parallel to the ground. Then three other kalaripayattu performers swing around near the pole. Meanwhile, there is haunting music by French musician Jerom Cury, who uses the drums as well as Tibetan bowls. The vocals are by singer Fatima El Hassouni.
All this is amazingly taking place on a street in Kottayam recently. It was a public performance. Bystanders watch the action curiously. Incidentally, the performance has been titled, 'Via', which means travelling by way of.
For Ode, it was a dream come true. A master of the Chinese pole, Ode had been learning kalaripayattu at the Jai Sankar KJV Kalari, at Puthupally, near Kottayam, for the past 12 years.
In February, this year, she began teaching the kalaripayattu dancers on how to use the Chinese pole. As a result, they were able to come up with a fusion performance. “I think it worked well,” she says. Ode is now planning to have an exchange project between the Kalari and two French circus schools, namely the Academie Fratellini, Paris and Circus Pole, Amiens. At the moment, she is looking for sponsors.
Thereafter, Ode plans to take the show to other parts of the world. “Not many people know of kalaripayattu,” she says. “I want to popularise it.”
For Ode, the discovery of kalaripayattu happened by accident. She had come to Kerala to attend the wedding of her brother to a Malayali woman. Both had been working in Jordan, he as an engineer and she was an air-hostess in the Royal Jordanian Airlines. They met and fell in love.
“It was on that visit that I saw kalaripayattu for the first time and became fascinated,” she says. At that time, she was a student of The National Circus School at Châtellerault (100 kms from Paris). “I got special permission from the school authorities to come and learn kalarippayattu,” she says.
Asked about the charms of the kalarippayattu, Ode says, “The flexibility of the art form is great. The movements are so fluid and elegant. When I am doing a Kalari movement I feel that I am in a temple. My mind becomes open and spiritual. In France when you are learning, you don't give much respect to the teacher. But in Kerala, you are keenly aware of the teacher's contribution and are respectful.”
In fact, Ode's teacher, the master, Dr Baiju Varghese Gurukkal is all praise. “She has become a very good kalari artist,” he says. “I admire her dedication and devotion to our traditional art form.”
Meanwhile, just before the Kottayam performance, Ode had an unusual experience. She had placed a cover on the pole. When she took it away, minutes before the start, a snake moved away. When she told Baiju, the latter said that it was a good sign. “In kalarippayattu, the snake is regarded as a symbol of spiritual energy,” says Baiju.
Meanwhile, the kalaripayattu master feels that the fusion can be deepened and become something great. “This is just the beginning, ” he says, with a smile.
(Sunday Magazine, The New Indian Express, South India and Delhi)
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