Friday, 4 August 2017

The Elephant in the Dramaturgy: Yuki Ellias

TEAMWORK ARTS AND INDIA@UK2017 YEAR OF CULTURE PRESENT

DUR SE BROTHERS’ PRODUCTION OF

ELEPHANT IN THE ROOM
Performed and directed by Yuki Ellias

Edinburgh Festival Fringe
ASSEMBLY – Front Room
3 – 26 August (not on 14 August)



Yuki Ellias in Elephant in the Room © C. Ganeshan/ Rafeeq Ellias/ Viraj Singh


Inspired by mythology, Elephant in the Room pays homage to Lord Ganapati, also known as Ganesha one of the best-known and most worshipped deities in the Hindu pantheon, in this quirky and poignant reinterpretation of his story.

Elephant in the Room won three awards for Best Actor Female, Costumes and Light Design, was nominated for 7 awards at the Mahindra Excellence in Theatre Awards 2017 and is among the most acclaimed shows running in India. This summer Edinburgh audiences have the opportunity to experience it in the UK for the first time.


What was the inspiration for this performance?

We have an enormous ten day festival every year for the Elephant-God Ganesh. Floats with the giant clay idols are driven through the streets, each truck is lead by hundreds of dancing and rejoicing devotees. I always thought this river of people and gods would be a great performance space. 

While brewing ideas, a friend asked me if I would tell the story of Ganesha during my parade- And it occurred to me that more than any of the myths told around this Elephant-god- there was nothing in the stories from the elephant perspective. The drama for me lay exactly here. What about the little elephant who was beheaded for this God? What about this big elephant in the room for which no story has been told...not yet. 



Is performance still a good space for the public discussion of ideas? 

I strongly believe so. It is a space where absolute strangers come and for a while, together, go through a journey of ideas and emotions. Where thoughts and beliefs have become singular truths... an inspiring performance has a way into this hard wired brain. Where no lectures, statistics or difference in opinion can otherwise penetrate, a performance can really move the chords of the heart and mind.  It has a way in to audience memory, sense, and empathy.
A good story and a performance can disrupt, in a good way, our peace with compromise and entitlement. 



How did you become interested in making performance?

 I began my career as an actor. After two years at the Jacques Lecoq school in Paris I was equipped to understand the crafting of story and performance far deeper. Back home in Mumbai, I got restless working just as an actor on other people's shows. The stories and the roles started to have very little meaning for me.   I needed to choose a play or create plays where my sensibilities were starting to grow. In Mumbai I had only worked with male directors. And at the age of 35 I really wanted to explore characters and plots through another channel..my own really.

Is there any particular approach to the making of the show?
I had intended to create this play for a medium sized cast. But when I was being commissioned to make a solo show, my partner suggested that I create Elephant in the Room into a solo performance. It was a brilliant idea. It became the storytelling device for writing the narrative as well. The text became the most crucial starting point. Sneh Sapru, the writer, and I would meet and devise the narrative after which she would go away to write and every few days a scene would be ready to look at. The music compositions began simultaneously as scenes were being created. I wanted to create the costumes before I got on to the floor as well as I new the costumes would play a large part in determining the movement of all characters. I got to the floor only at the final stage of the process. But all the elements- the words, the score and costumes- they gave me the physicality of this performance. The direction came from all the elements. The words, the cloak, and the music are my co actors. 

Does the show fit with your usual productions?

It is a show that is entirely different from what I have made before or been a part of. Yet, it is in every way what I have been wanting to create for the last four years. The
aesthetics and its core meaning have been long brewing in my imagination. It feels right, both as a narrative for the times we live in, but also the performance style which is truly liberating for a woman actor who loves to embody all... all genders, animals, the earth, the skies, night and day, the abstract.

What do you hope that the audience will experience?
I hope the audience will experience a moving and entertaining story of of being lost and being found. 

What strategies did you consider towards shaping this audience experience?
I wanted to create a text that is entertaining yet poignant. Most of it runs in verse. All the characters reflect the times we live- A hyena contemplates migration, cheetahs for see their extinction, A hunter and spider duo are punished for love in the time of hate. A boy carries the weight of an obscure and heavy head. He is nearly going to lose his mind and himself. The show is physically and vocally dynamic as one morphs between 9 characters. The music combines contemporary cinematic

This multi-award-winning, critically-acclaimed, magic-realism tale, follows the journey of a young beheaded Elephant God, in search of his human head.Elephant in the Room is a comedy rooted in Indian mythology, time-travelling its way into a commentary on the environmental, social and cultural realities of our times. 
Director and actor Yuki Ellias graduated from the Jacques Lecoq School of Theatre, Paris and London School of Performing Arts. She has collaborated with writer, Sneh Sapru, for this is reimagining of an old myth in search of new answers.
Yuki Ellias said: “The original myth has a brutal beginning- A God beheads a son. And to make amends for his mistake an elephant life is sacrificed to replace the son’s old head. The old myth has a rather soft narrative for such a violent premise. I just felt there was so much more story to explore rather than just the acceptance of fate. What if the boy rejects this new head, his family, his people, himself? How would he journey from his anger and self-loathing to embrace his elephant head?”
It is a fascinating and power-packed solo performance. In the space of one hour Yuki Ellias plays nine characters including that of Master Tusk, the young elephant-boy, a Spider, hunter, Mona the Hyena, Chitra the Cheetah, Boris the Siberian Crane and others.
She continues, “This story unsettles the dust. The comedy questions the godliness of Gods and the heavy hand of patriarchy and power.  Against the backdrop of contemporary India’s growing religious chauvinism, we need to find new meaning in old myths”.
Of Yuki ElliasThe Hindu said “It’s easy to forget that Yuki is petite: on the stage, she’s tall, lithe and graceful, and gives all characters that she plays a life and distinction. Accents, body language, facial expressions, everything changes as she slips easily in and out of the different characters. It’s a pleasure to watch her perform.” And continued about the show… “It was entertaining and thought-provoking, and for an entire hour (and for quite some time after) had the audience spellbound.”
The New India Express called it “A fascinating solo”
Elephant in the Room is part of a season of work presented by Teamwork Arts on behalf of the Indian High Commission, the Ministry of Culture, and the Indian Council for Cultural Relations. The UK-India Year of Culture stretches from May to November celebrating the rich diversity of Indian culture, the deep cultural ties between the two nations and the 70th Anniversary of Indian Independence. Further details of activity up and down the UK can be found at www.indiaatuk2017.com.
Web: http://indiaatuk2017.com/ Twitter: #indiaatuk2017; @ TeamworkArts Facebook: /dursebrothers

Listing Information
Venue:  Assembly Rooms – Front Room
Time:  18:25 (65 minutes)
Dates: 3 - 26 August. No show Mon 14 August.
Tickets: Previews: 3 & 4 August £8; 5, 6, 9, 10, 15 - 17, 21 - 24 August £11; 7, 8, 11 - 13, 18 - 20, 25, 26 August £12

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