Reflection on chapters of Beyond the Proscenium: Bansi Kaul & Astad Debu

Following are excerpts from the two chapters of the book ‘Beyond the proscenium’ edited by Anmol Vellani and my wandering thoughts after reading those. One of the chapters is an interview with Astad Deboo by Sunil Shanbag and the other chapter is an interview with Bansi Kaul by Anmol Vellani and Himanshu Burte. In the interview, Astad focuses on his idea of performance and how a performance should be. He emphasizes the experience of the performance. Hence space becomes an element of his performance. Bansi Kaul emphasizes on Idea of space and space design. His approach toward space and performance is described more at an ideological and psychological level.

Artists and their idea of performance an idea of space:

Astad Deboo was an Indian contemporary dancer and choreographer. As an artist, he was keen and tried to be spontaneous, bore no preconceived notions, worked with what he had, and was open to improvisation not only in his performance but also with musicians and the audience. For him, performance was the means of communication. He explored this communication through his performances by challenging the notion of dance, space, the performer-spectator relationship, and also the audience. Thus, in Astad’s journey, space becomes the medium for the exploration of communication. He believed that performance could happen anywhere. He tried to imbibe the space and weave the work around the space. He refrained from using space as a prop. Thus, in Astad’s performance, space becomes a participant in the performance.

Bansi Kaul was an Indian theatre director and the founder of Rang Vidushak, a theatre group in Bhopal. For him, theatre design was a ‘complex emergent phenomenon’ in performance and not a pre-existing ‘thing’. He rejected the conventional proscenium theatre design as the frame (the proscenium) doesn’t allow to go in and out of it. While talking about the space of performance, he states that performance space is the space that actors physically occupy and signifies that the actors are the authors of the space and not the set designers.

Both talk about the division of the space and the ephemerality of such separated spaces. Astad describes how he breaks the space into smaller spaces of a different feel, texture and experience and the corridors (transition spaces) that transition through such spaces. He focuses on the experiences of space thus created. Bansi talks about slicing performance space, evoking multiple spaces of theatre that perceive as impermanent.

Performance and spectator relationship:

Astad paid attention to the proximity of the viewers. He understood that viewers’ arrangement which consists of placement, distance, orientation and viewing angle with respect to the performance, affected the sense of the space. He believed that taking risks added to the excitement of the space and performance. He achieved this by choosing different sites which had varied qualities in the same place for his performance. When he was limited by one space, he broke the space into smaller spaces. These smaller spaces he thus created had different feel, textures, and experiences. Yet these broken spaces were not fixed to a particular feel, texture, or experience. He also explored the transition (physical space) between these broken spaces which he called corridors. Astad loved to explore verticality in a space. He explored this dimension of space while breaking space or selecting the spaces for his performance.

Both Astad and Bansi talk strongly about the performance and spectator relationship. Astad explores this physically to achieve a visual experience. Bansi explores and emphasizes this to be dealt with first at the physiological level. His and his ensemble’s practice is based on and directed towards challenging the notions at the psychological level and the physical act is the result of such practice.

What should a performance space be like?

Astad mentioned some very specific needs regarding the place of performance. While describing the sense of the performance space he mentioned space needs to have character – like a huge banyan tree in Rishi Valley or having a sunken garden whose rooftop can be lit for performance. While putting forth the characteristics of the space he prefers the space to have built-in flexibility and that the space should provide for expanse for both solo and group performance. Regarding details, he emphasizes the smoothness of the floor for dance performances.

Astad brings in the role of the performance space managers in nurturing the creative character of the place.