“A Flowering Tree” retells an ancient folk-tale, about a young woman who has the ability to turn herself into a tree, which blossoms with intoxicatingly fragrant flowers. Phillip Zarrilli collaborated with Gitanjali to develop this performance and used his ‘psychophysical’ actor-training technique to explore these themes from the original story: ‘blossoming’ as a metaphor for sexual awakening, sexual awakening as a metaphor for spiritual awakening, and the tantric rites of trance and magic associated with feminine energy that bring about such illumination.
Pampanthulal, a snake-worshipping ritual of Kerala, in which elaborate designs are drawn over the course of a day, and then wiped out with the body, is the inspiration for a dance where the feet and body create a pattern of Tantric designs within a six foot square of rice flour.
Gitanjali tells the story using the stylised mime techniques of Koodiattam, to create the sense of the girl turning into a tree, beginning with the roots and moving through the body as wood, bark and branches take over the flesh, the performer feeling and manifesting the transformation through breath, hand gestures and facial expressions.
The performance ends with a ‘magical’ effect: a pot that was shown upturned, on which the dancer danced, is tipped again, and this time water flows out.
“A Flowering Tree” is resonantly theatrical, meant for a modern urban audience, using techniques from bharata natyam and kalaripayat, inspired by folk and ritual forms.