'...sweet...bitter...plaintive...' (2010-2011) & THE DANCE OF THE DRUNKEN MONK (2003-2004)

“Corpo-realities 2: “sweet…dry…bitter…plaintive” (2010-2011)


Concept/direction, on invitation by SANKALPAM, Stella Subbiah

Artistic Director and choreographer. UK tour: 2010-11. Manchester,

Laban Centre, and UK tour. ACE funded production.

 For Corpo-realities 1, 2, and 3, Sankalpam invited guest artists from the fields of contemporary dance and theatre to create a surprising triple bill for five female dancers—Choreographers Luca Silvestrini and Stephanie Schober created performances 1 and 3, and theatre director, Phillip Zarrilli co-created performance 2 with Stella Subbiah, Artistic Director of Sankalpam.


Corpo-realities 2: “sweet...dry...bitter...plaintive” - uses contemporary ‘found’ text and sixth century Tamil Sangam-age poetry to explore and embody a deep sense of love and loss. These two states are corporeally elaborated through the internal acting process of Bharata Natyam and the vocabulary of contemporary performance.

Co-created by Stella Uppal Subbiah and Phillip Zarrilli

Concept and Direction: Phillip Zarrilli

Choreography: Stella Uppal Subbiah

Dancers: Charlie Ashwell, Stella Uppal Subbiah, Nathalia Thorn, and Lucia Tong

Music: Arvo Part (Alina #2, Alina #1, Beatus #3, Alina #1, Alina #2, Alina #3)


Corpo-realities was funded by an ACE grant, and toured England, with performances at the Laban Theatre, London.





A Dance-Theatre Adaptation of

'The Farce of Drunken Sport' (Matta-vilasa Prahasanam)

by King Mahendravarman


Produced and presented by SANGALPAM

First production2003

National UK tour 2003-04 (including performances at the Purcell Room, Queen Elizabeth Hall, South Bank)

Artistic Director Stella Uppal-Subbiah

 Stage Director/Adaptation/Dramaturg/Acting Coach Phillip B. Zarrilli

Cast Vidya Thirunarayan, Mira Balchandran-Gokul, Stella Uppal-Subbiah,Narendran Panga Thody (Guest Artist from India), Narendra Gundurao (Guest Artist from India)

Musicans Iain Ballamy, Karaikuddi Krishnamurthy


Founded in 1994, SANGALPAM is a UK-based professional South Asian dance company specializing in bharatanatyam. SANGALPAM combines respect for tradition with a desire to venture beyond current convention and build a new choreographic framework for Indian classical dance. Mira Balachandran Gokul, Stella Uppal-Subbiah and Vidya Thirunarayan all trained at the prestigious Kalakshetra College of Fine Arts in Chennai (Madras) where they had the opportunity to work with the pioneering choreographer, Rukmini Devi Arundale. Subsequently the three performers have developed their own careers in Southport, London and Swindon respectively and are established, independent artists in their own right. In 1994 Mira, Vidya and Stella came together as SANKALPAM to present a programme of work which then toured venues throughout the UK. Earlier works include Tat, Ulaa, Avatara, among others.


SANGALPAM secured Arts Council funding for their 2003-04 production of a dance-theatre adaptation of the seventh century one-act Sanskrit farce—A Farce of Drunken Sport—by King, Mahendravarman.This was a highly unusual project. With the exception of a handful of Sanskrit dramas still performed in the kutiyattam tradition preserved in Kerala, India’s temple theatres, or occasional productions by Indian theatre directors, most Sanskrit dramas, including A Farce of Drunken Sport, have not been performed in India for centuries.The adaptation and choreography of “The Dance of the Drunken Monk” brought to life this 7th century Sanskrit farce in a bi-lingual (Sanskrit-English) dance-drama, allowing UK audiences to appreciate both the dramatic narrative in its own right as a hilarious farce, as well as the traditional South Indian bhava-rasa aesthetic which allows an audience to ‘taste’ the subtle ‘flavors’ of comedy. The acting, voice work, and staging conventions in the production were inspired primarily by kutiyattam—the oldest extant form of continuously performed dramatic theatre in the world, and the only extant form of staging Sanskrit dramas that dating from approximately the 9th century. The choreography is based on bharatanatyam.


The Play and its Adaptation as South Asian Dance-Theatre

Matta-vilasa Prahasanam is one of two short Sanskrit farces written by the Pallava king, Mahendravarman-I, who ruled South India around the beginning of the seventh century. The two plays are the earliest extant examples of farce in South Asian literature. Among all Sanskrit dramas, the best known is Kalidasa’s full-length, five-act drama, Sakuntala. Sanskrit dramas are so-called because the main male characters speak in Sanskrit—the language of court and ritual dominant at the time the plays were written. All female characters, and many of the lesser male characters, spoke in a variety of Prakrits—everyday dialects reflecting their social position. With the exception of the kutiyattam tradition of staging Sanskrit dramas still extant in Kerala, India, the tradition of staging Sanskrit dramas disappeared for centuries. Their rediscovery by contemporary directors in India has led to their re-staging today.While keeping the overall dramatic structure of the farce, in our adaptation we have judiciously edited the original to emphasize the choreographic, physical, and mimetic/acting strengths of our core performance tradition, bharatanatyam. While emphasizing movement in our adaptation, we have kept some of the dialogue. The main male character—an unorthodox Saivite wandering holy man or ‘Kapali’—speaks only in Sanskrit. All the other characters speak bi-lingually—in Sanskrit or a Prakrit, as well as in the ‘local dialect’—English.


The Story, its background, and the order of performance: Preliminary Dance:

 Performed by the entire performance ensemble.


Prologue Featuring the Director of the theatre company staging the evening’s performance, and the senior Actress of the company, the Prologue is a traditional part of all Sanskrit dramas enacting a ‘play-within-the play’. It is structured to introduce and reflect—humorously in a farce-- the overall plot of the drama proper. The Director (Sutradhara) Stella Subbiah.Senior Actress Mira GokulThe Actor (who ‘purifies/blesses’ the stage) Narendran ThodyThe play proper (a brief summary): follows the drunken sport of an unorthodox, wandering holy man—known as a Kapali—who is a devotee of Lord Siva, and his female partner, Devasoma, who is his constant companion. As members of a radical and highly unorthodox sect known as Kapalikas, their ‘rites’ included drinking, wild dancing, singing, and ritual intercourse with their partners. Their ‘home’ was traditionally the cremation grounds where they smeared the ashes of the dead over their bodies. Most important to their identity as a sect, was the fact that they used the bowl-like fragment of the upper part of a human skull as an alms-bowl when they went begging. The word for ‘skull’ in Sanskrit is kapala—thus the sect, and our main character, is known as a Kapali. The plot of the farce revolves around the loss and eventually recovering of the skull-bowl, so precious to the Kapali and his partner, Devasoma. Like all such mendicants, they are in a constant search for ‘alms’—in their case, liquor, which will keep them in a state of ecstatic devotion.


Section 1 The Kapali and Devasoma enter in a state of drunkenness. The Kapali drunkenly mixes up his partner, Devosoma’s name, with Somadeva—the name of the goddess of liquor! Devasoma asks the Kapali if he can clarify for her who, precisely, he ‘is’. The Kapali Narendra Gundurao Devosoma Vidya Thirnarayan


Section 2 As she continues to drink from their skull-bowl, she begins to see double—are there now two Kapalis, or even more? The Second or ‘Double’ Kapali Narendran Thody


Section 3 In their search for additional alms, they decide to travel (Section 3) to the great capital city of Kanchipuram where there are many taverns. After the great city is introduced (through dance), two women of the city greet the Kapali and Devasoma, taking them to a tavern/temple where they can ‘worship’ Lord Siva in front of the lingam. The couple become increasingly drunk and eventually pass out. A Buddhist monk and a mad-dog encounter the two in their stupor. When they awake, the Kapali discovers that his precious skull-bowl is missing! After searching for it, he declares that the Buddhist monk must have stolen it. Buddhist Monk (Nagasena) Narendra ThodyThe Mad-Dog Mira Gokul


Section 4 The Buddhist monk enters with a dance. Discovered by the Kapali and Devasoma, they (mistakenly) accuse him of stealing their skull-bowl, and a chase begins. The Buddhist monk, whose alms bowl he has kept hidden according to the custom of his sect, is finally so disgusted with the antics of the Kapalikas that he simply gives them his own alms bowl—but it is not their skull bowl.


Section 5 The mad-dog enters with the skull-bowl in his mouth! The dog finally drops the skull-bowl, bringing a happy resolution to the farce.


Concluding Dance: the ensemble.


Production/Programme Notes by Phillip ZarrilliOpened February 14, 2003 and all-UK tour through November, 2003. Performed at Purcell Room, Queen Elizabeth Hall, National Theatre (London). Funded by Arts Council of England project grant to Sangalpam.