A portrait painting by Joe Sellman-Leava, a member of the cast of ‘Red Oleanders’

150 birthday celebrations for Indian poet and playwright

The 150th birthday of the renowned Indian poet, playwright, philosopher and artist Rabindranath Tagore is being marked through a programme of dance and theatre. 

Performances by artists based in Devon make up the celebrations led by Exeter based theatre company SourDough Theatre and Drama lecturer Dr Jerri Daboo from the University of Exeter.

The Bike Shed Theatre in Exeter is the main venue for the Tagore performances on the 12th, 13th and 14th  May and form part of the Dartington Festival.  The play performed by SourDough Theatre, ‘Red Oleanders’, is Tagore’s poetic story set in a mythical kingdom in India which tells of the need for freedom against oppression, and the power of love in the face of adversity.  The new adaptation explores the essence of the themes in Tagore’s play for a contemporary audience. 

As a director Dr Daboo approached the SourDough Theatre to embark on an exploration of Tagore whose life stemmed from 1861 to 1941. She said ‘'To work with a newly-formed company of recent University of Exeter Drama graduates has been a real pleasure, both in terms of helping them to develop their careers further, and to work with a company of actors who know each other well. With the current climate of questioning the employability potential of degrees such as Drama, SourDough Theatre proves that the training and skills gained from studying Drama can offer a great potential for creative, meaningful and sustainable work after graduating.'

The second performance in the programme uses Tagore’s famous and beautiful poem ‘Gitanjali’ as the basis for an improvised movement response to the reading of extracts. The piece, entitled ‘Dance on the Edges of Time’ is being performed by University of Exeter Drama lecturers, Professor Mick Mangan and Dr Pam Woods. Professor Mangan said of the poem, ‘’The images in 'Gitanjali' offer much in the way of potential for voice, music and movement. The title of the performance is taken from the line: 'Let your life lightly dance on the edges of Time, like dew on the tip of a leaf.'"

The third part of the trio of performances which celebrate the life and work of Tagore is called ‘The Wife’s Letter’ and is a contemporary dance theatre solo. It is based on a controversial pro-feminist short story ‘Steer Patra’ written by Tagore in 1914. The piece weaves together film, music, text and dance set in contemporary London looking at the contrasting world of Brick Lane and Hampstead Heath.  Performed by Prarthana Purkayastha, the combination of choreography and film creates an unusual theatre experience. ‘The Wife’s Letter’ is in collaboration with composer Soumik Datta and film maker Sangeeta Datta. Dr Purkayastha is a lecturer in the Theatre and Performance Department at the University of Plymouth. These performances are an opportunity to bring together professional practitioners and academics from the South West to offer an unusual cross-cultural programme of work to celebrate the life of Tagore.

Date: 6 May 2011

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