Dastak Nukkad: Ponnamma Devaiah brings the magic of Panchatantra to a new stage in Singapore

Bringing to the stage a unique blend of dance, masks and drama, Ponnamma Devaiah is set to helm Dastak Nukkad, a 30-minute musical street theatre performance which will happen outside Black Box, at Goodman Arts Centre at 7 pm every day of Dastak 2017.

Ponnamma Devaiah.
Ponnamma Devaiah.

Trained in Bharatanatyam, Indian folk dances and martial arts, Ponnamma is an acclaimed classical dance performer and expert from India. She was the Principal of the Natya Institute of Kathak and Choreography, and Assistant Director of STEM Dance Kampni, headed by the acclaimed dancer Madhu Nataraj.

The addition of a new artistic dimension with Dastak Nukkad highlights the enthusiasm and growth of the performers. In its inaugural year, Dastak Nukkad will bring to life folktales from the timeless Panchatantra – using live music, masks from various regions of India, dance and drama, with the script written by Ponnamma Devaiah and Gauri Gupta. Here’s what Ponnamma had to say about Dastak’s latest innovation.

CtoI: Is this your first time directing a Hindi production? Tell us a bit about yourself. How do you manage or balance a successful dance career and theatre both?

Ponnamma Devaiah: Stage performance has always fascinated me since childhood. Be it dance, music or theatre. With my bachelor’s degree in choreography, we were trained to be a complete artist. Every element to put up a production ie dance, music, costume, stage decor or set, stage lighting, everything should be suggested by the choreographer. So, training in that style helped me a lot to be aware of every nuance of stage. 

Other than dancing, I have always involved myself in suggesting lightning, music, costume, movement in every production I have been involved for 10 years at least.

Yes, this is my first Hindi theatre work and it was an easy transition for me. When I was asked to direct/choreograph Panchatantra, I immediately accepted it because I love new challenges and I believe that's the way I can grow as an artist too.

Dastak Nukkad performers
Dastak Nukkad performers. Photos courtesy: Dastak

CtoI: Singapore’s arts and culture scene seems to have heated up a lot in the last few years, there are too many shows for NRIs to go, in this context do you think a Hindi theatre festival is too bold a step?

Ponnamma Devaiah: Yes, Singapore is suddenly seeing this boom in the cultural scene for a few years now, but DASTAK being one of a kind is a bold step and I think it came at the right time too. When I saw the overwhelming response last year I realised the Hindi speaking folks here were missing this in Singapore. I am happy this was created at the right time.

CtoI: Dastak seems to be the Twitter of theatre; communicating/telling the story in 10 minutes. How challenging is it?

Ponnamma Devaiah: Telling a story in 10 minutes is very challenging as by the time you enter stage and establish what the story is about the time is up. As a director, it's my job to convey the theme, or story, well in the given little time, but through this I have learnt a lot too, especially that how long you are on stage is not important; rather, how effective one could be on stage in a short time is the goal.

CtoI: What is going to be your next project?

Ponnamma Devaiah: Actually, I need a break; that's my next project. Since June I have been working very hard on this and, of course, preparing for a parent and child dance workshop on November 26, 2017 at Esplanade as a part Kalaa Utsavam 2017. So looking forward to it.

CtoI: How do you accurately portray the modern world on the stage?

Ponnamma Devaiah: I think as a dancer, trained in Indian classical style, we always represent the ancient classical art on a contemporary /modern stage.  We are always juggling tradition and modernity. 

The performers going through a rehearsal for the inaugural Nukkad show.
The performers going through a rehearsal for the inaugural Nukkad show.

CtoI: What makes Nukkad unique? What inspired you to select Panchatantra? 

Ponnamma Devaiah: Panchatantra stories have always been my favourite, so when we as a team decided to use a mask for Nukkad, I think it became clear to our writer Gauri Gupta, festival director Shalaka and me that it had to be something to be with animals.  And since I have been trained in multiple movement disciplines, it was exciting to bring in dance, music, theatre and use of mask s in one ambitious production - Nukkad. I have always loved Lion King- the Broadway production. Nukkad is a small attempt to make a simple version of a musical in our own way.

Tushaar Kuthiala
Tushaar Kuthiala – Associate Editor

Tushaar has extensive experience as a journalist and in founding two start-up newspapers. He has developed editorial models for both copy and content, and has written several articles, news reports on a wide range of topics. He is a graduate of St. Stephen’s College and earned a post-graduate diploma in TV Journalism from the Asian College of Journalism (ACJ), Chennai. He has worked as a special correspondent based in New Delhi with Daily World, an international media organisation. 


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