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In March 2015 a small cinematographic troupe leaves Italy for India to travel for a month throughout the tribal areas of West Bengal and Jharkhand for an artistic and anthropological research about a traditional dance called Purulia Chhau.
The result of this journey is a documentary titled “Chhau nach, on the road to Jharkhand”. The very first idea of this project was born when Maria Luisa Nardelli, a performer and researcher from La Sapienza University, started to study Chhau dance in 2007, when she met the Milòn Mèla group from India. Milòn Mèla is a theatre company founded by the disciple of Jerzy Grotowski, Abani Biswas, whose project includes Chhau dance, a tribal male dance born in the early 19th century which narrates stories drawn from indian epic poems, through the use of enormous masks. Although it is still a traditional dance, during the last decades Chhau has gone through profound changes, due to its contamination with contemporary artistic forms like Bollywood and Jatra theatre.
After almost ten years spent studying Chhau and dancing it with Guru Adhar Kumar, Maria Luisa decides to go back to India with the director Antonella Sabatino and the cinematographer Nils Astrologo to investigate how the changes within society have influenced this warrior male dance and provoked relevant evolutions, like its opening to foreign students and to female performers. The journey starts in West Bengal with several interviews to Abani Biswas and his performers, in which they illustrate their approach to Chhau dance and the mutations they have noticed within the performances during the last twenty years.
Then, the crew moves to Jharkhand where Maria Luisa becomes the instrument to discover if Gurus are well-disposed to teach their ancient art to a foreign female student.
Despite they have never taught to girls, some of them try to adapt their traditional teaching methods to Maria Luisa. Finally, the troupe spend three weeks in Jamdih, a small town also called “Chhau Village”, sleeping in Adhar’s house, living with his family and his dancers, eating, talking and travelling with them, day after day.
Jamdih is a remote place, where tradition meets innovation in a very peculiar way, its contradictions have a great impact on a foreign eye. Local children dance in a modern school during the morning and practice in the mud, with no electricity, in the evening.
Adhar’s Kumar troupe performs at international festivals and traines on the banks of the river next to buffalos.
They travel for hours on the top of a van to perform in a space surrounded by neons and microphones. At the end of their journey, the authors find out that in a village near Jamdih there is a female company of Chhau dance.
Thus they reach them and have the pleasure to see them performing war stories among horrible demons. The young women were proud to declare, with resolution, their Chhau dancers identity: “Women can fly airplanes, they can go on the moon, they can go on a rocket, then why wouldn’t they be able to dance Chhau?”.