Varun Narain is a Delhi-based puppeteer for whom ‘puppetry is a medium for telling stories of “untimely deaths of women—some of them his friends, and others, he constantly heard about”. His recent production, Dusk Bride Melodrama, was informed by his fascination with the theme of dying, but his dream of exploring this theme in an Indian context has remained unfulfilled. This grant will enable him to develop a production of Giselle ki Kahani and realise this ambition.
Giselle is a celebrated ballet of the Romantic era, and had its premiere on June 28, 1841 in Paris. Varun’s first exposure to a version of Giselle was a ballet performance by the Bolshoi Ballet Company in New Delhi a few years ago. Since then, he has seen various versions of Giselle, whose plot, drama and music have opened “a window into trying to resolve and cope with the sudden loss of a loved one”.
Speaking about the origins of this IFA-supported project, Varun says, “With Giselle ki Kahani, I ask the same question of life and death but this time the plot is almost “exaggeratedly normal’. Giselle is an ordinary village girl who falls in love with a Prince living in a city and all is well until she discovers that he is already engaged to another woman. As she tries to comprehend her life within the context of society, she faces unbearable pressures, becomes mad—and then dies. However, in her afterlife, as a spirit, she resolves the consequences of betrayal.”
Giselle ki Kahani will combine puppetry with dance and re-imagine of Giselle (in the Charles Adolphe Adams’ version) as an Indian peasant girl. Varun Narain will collaborate with Rea Krishnatraye, who has worked with renowned ballet maestro Fernando Aguilera’s group from Argentina as the lead dancer for productions like Swan Lake, Giselle and Sleeping Beauty. Besides majoring in classical ballet, she has also mastered other dance forms like Jazz, Salsa, Flamenco and Tango.
Varun observes that his collaborator Rea “dances with puppets as well as for the puppets—making the situation a visual experience in body movement and object movement”. Rea says, “I have danced in a ballet of Giselle before. This time, for me, Giselle ki Kahani is not about the arabesque movements or the pointing toes but more about ‘Giselle’ being alive inside me to tell her story—that’s the feeling I am searching for.” As a dancer, Rea is fascinated by objects in motion and finds freedom in expression while working with Varun and his puppets.
Giselle’s character will be visualised in three different forms on the stage. First, she will appear in the form of a small string and rod puppet to express her lack of agency—a puppet controlled by external social forces. Giselle will also appear as a life- size puppet when she asserts her identity and experiences heightened emotions of love, turmoil and madness. Finally, the dancer will depict the post-trauma Giselle. In this way, Varun and Rea hope to push the limits of both puppetry and dance and create multiple perspectives on the story of Giselle in an Indian context.
A lot of effort and thought will go into fabricating the puppets for the production. Puppets for Giselle will be created in different sizes, colours and shapes in a light material like foam or latex. Some of the puppets will have stands made of interlinked PVC pipes and wooden bases; others will be raised on wheels for smooth movement on stage and with the dancer; and still others will be built to be fixed in predetermined positions on stage and function like a set.
This description is part of the institutional records created by IFA at the onset of the grant. The project may have changed in due course as reflected in the deliverables from the Grantee.
Grant No : 2008-0-008
Grantee Name : Varun Narain
Programme : New Performance
Grant Status : Completed
Start Date : 01-11-2008
End Date : 01-05-2019
Duration : Six months
Grant Amount : 531,000
Geographical Area of Work :
Disciplinary Field of Work : Dance, Puppetry