Walking Naked is a dance-theatre piece based on the life and ecstatic poetry of Mahadevi Akka, a twelfth century female poet-saint of Karnataka. The performance was created over two years through a collaborative process between Gitanjali Kolanad and director/performer-trainer Phillip Zarrilli.
The text, sometimes spoken in English, or sung in Kannada, is based on the Sunya Sampadane, which means ‘attaining nothingness’, from the English translation by Judith Kroll and U. R. Anandamurthy. It tells Mahadevi’s story in narrative and in poetry: she was born to pious parents, initiated into Shiva worship as a young girl, married to a petty prince of the region. One day Mahadevi left her husband, and because he tried to hold her back by her sari, she left the sari in his hands and wandered naked, covered only in her long hair, searching for union with Shiva, who she addressed by the name that has become the signature to her poems - Mallikarjuna - Lord White as Jasmine. Mahadevi died very young, but her poetic voice is one of the most poignantly beautiful of the whole Vira Shavaite tradition.
Three puppets were conceived and constructed to embody Mahadevi’s experience of the dissolution of self, the emptying of ego and the ecstatic union with the divine; one, made of ice, melts; one, made of cloth, disembowels itself, and the last, of paper and metal, burns, leaving only a luminous outer framework of brass worked with lotuses and the symbols of godhead - triangles, circles and squares.
These puppets and the work that Gitanjali does to control and manipulate them engender a state of being in her that is not ‘pretended’ or ‘acted’ but is simply the state that happens when that sort of work is done in performance, like the trance state of kavadi dancers and theyyam dancers in South India. The puppet and puppet techniques derive from Gitanjali’s interest in folk and ritual traditions.
Gitanjali’s performance uses Bharata Natyam, kalarippayattu, the puppets, the spoken word, music and a yantra-inspired stage design. It lasts for 45 minutes without an intermission.