Les Fleurs du Mal (The Flowers of Evil) based on the poetry of Baudelaire is a new show from Shakti coming to Adelaide Fringe 2023. We have a chat to Shakti about the show which makes its Adelaide debut having first had a successful season at Avignon OFF festival. Read our interview with Shakti below.
Shakti, you’re bringing the venue The Garage International back to Adelaide Fringe as well as performing in your own new show, Les Fleurs du Mal (The Flowers of Evil) based on the poetry of Baudelaire. Can you please tell us a little about the show?
The show depicts the symbolism of beauty and evil and its paradoxical nature. There are 3 dancers who tease you with questions of the unfamiliar world of surrealism and illusion. It is almost like a masquerade ball where we invite the audience to join us in the mysterious dance.
For those unfamiliar with Baudelaire’s poetry, specifically Les Fleurs du Mal, how would you explain it to them?
Many may find Baudelaire’s poetry vulgar and grotesque and many of the words he uses are just that but it is through these images that he strips away the prejudices and morals of society and attempts to get to the core – whatever that may be. His poetry describes the French “ennui” which can be translated loosely as “boredom”. He changed the poetry scene from the beautiful romantic views to what Baudelaire himself celebrated as decadence. His Flowers of Evil is a collection of his best works.
What made you decide to based a show on Baudelaire’s poetry?
I found it fascinating because he deals with the inner turmoil which we all have within us. If we can accept the opposite forces which moves us and confuses us, we can enjoy both the plus and minus, life and death. We have to accept that we are not perfect but it may be the imperfection that creates the special individual. If that imperfection, which Baudelaire compares to the spleen, is exalted, it will be created into a beauty another one may not have.
The path of Les Fleurs du Mal is similar to what is outlined in Hindu Philosophy and the dance shows the parallel nature of it. (My major at Columbia University in New York was Indian Philosophy and most of my dances are based on the philosophy.) The dance is divided into the following sections or dances.
- Mandala – a microcosm representing divine powers at work in the universe. The Mandala represents the nature of experience and the intricacies of both the enlightened and confused mind. The dancers weave the web.
- Karma is the concept of action. The dancers act to be bound to one another as one extreme ideal cannot exist without the malignant spleen.
- Moksha is liberation. Or is it? Yet bound together they cannot part.
- Maya is illusion, the veil which must be lifted. The battlefield of the mind and soul / spleen and ideal continue.
- Kala is the ultimate time where good and evil cease to exist and all paradoxes unite.
- Samsara is the continuous flow of birth, life, death and rebirth. “It is he who flows into himself to perpetually wander through harsh states of existence which the pain of the never-ending cycle is transformed into the lush blossoms of the “flowers of evil”.”
The show premiered in Avignon Off Festival and then was performed in Seoul at the VIA International Festival. It was praised for its philosophical content and artistic presentation.
What inspires you in his poetry?
The bold and direct words which creates images in your mind that dares you to challenge yourself. He was prosecuted and his poetry was banned, declared offensive and indecent but isn’t this how you read and interpret it? It digs into who you really are.
What can audiences expect from this show?
A dance. A pure dance that shows the beauty in the mysterious world we might call grotesque or evil. My dance technique is based on Indian dance and yoga but is portrayed in a contemporary way. There is partial nudity which I find natural in the dance.
Do audiences need to speak French to attend? Are the poems recited/projected on stage?
No, there are no words. Audience will get a programme with a couple of poems from The Flowers of Evil so they can get an idea of his poetry but the dance is pure movement, emotion and passion.
You performed the show at Avignon Festival OFF. How was the show received?
“Never have I seen the beauty in the evil so well expressed.” La Provence
“Strange encounter of Baudelairian poetry with sacred dance, whether it be of Hindu or Buddhist inspiration. The dancers take us on a Karmic crossing in search for a “Beyond”! We are invited to the initiation. The dancers perfectly master the movements of the body. The choreography draws its inspiration from both oriental traditions as well as in the expression of secular gestures, such as cabaret dances and striptease.
We remain fascinated by the beauty and precision of the gestures. The poetry of Baudelaire, spoken in Japanese, works magically without our understanding of the language. The dance, music, through its rhythms, mark the meeting of the earthly and the celestial. It takes us into the regions of inner conflict where good and evil are opposed. The dancers, both angels and devils, invite us to the ball. It is up to us to dance.”
J. Bertrand Revue Spectacle Avignon, France
What’s your French connection? I understand you take shows from Australia to Avignon each year?
I have been performing at the Avignon Festival OFF since 1995. In 2000 I started my own venue, The Garage International located in L’Hotel Mercure Pont d’Avignon. I found that the festival was basically French with some European shows but there was hardly anything (if at all) from Asia or Australia or even America. Things have changed in the last 22 years but I do believe that we were the pioneers of introducing English-speaking theatre in Avignon. I understand that it would have been difficult for foreigners if you did not speak the language. You need to speak French in France as you need to speak English in Australia. Due to COVID we haven’t been back in Avignon for three years. I am really looking forward to going there again this July. We will have several artists from Australia joining us as well.
The Fringe show is a dance performance. How long have you been dancing?
I have been dancing for 62 years. I guess that shows how old I am! I say that I mature like a good Bordeaux. I am not young, I am ageless. I revel in growing old and withering away in perfection.
You’ve developed your own unique hybrid form of dance which blends Eastern dance traditions and yoga with Western contemporary dance bringing about an exotic and erotic effect. How did you do this?
My discipline is Classical Indian Hindu Temple Dance, Bharata Natyam. My mother is the first Japanese woman to introduce Indian Dance to Japan. My late father was Indian and he taught me yoga and philosophy thus I grew up with yoga and dance as a way of life. I went to high school and university in New York and studied modern dance with Martha Graham who was also influenced by Indian/Eastern Dance. Indian Dance has very strict discipline and technique so I wanted to find a way to blend it with the western and eastern traditions that I grew up in.
I will also be doing a Classical Indian Hindu Temple Dance show at the Fringe. You can see my starting point in the Indian dance and see how it turned into Les Fleurs du Mal.
Adelaide audiences may have seen you in your previous dance show, Classique Nu, in which you danced naked on stage. How do you perform naked without being too exposed or becoming R rated?
How can you be too exposed? The body is natural and nothing to be ashamed of. Nudes are portrayed in paintings, sculptures and photography. It is most natural and important to portray it live. In Japan, though people may think is a conservative country, I have children come to my shows. Parents have no problem bringing their children and children have no problem with the nudity. And France? < Bien sûr – no problem>
Why should audiences come to see Les Fleurs du Mal at Adelaide Fringe?
To have a great experience and immerse themselves in the surrealistic decadence the dance portrays ending with the silver bird flying into the beyond.
Anything else you wish to add?
Leave your inhibitions behind and welcome into the world of The Flowers of Evil.
We thank Shakti for this interview.
KEY INFO IN LES FLEURS DU MAL (THE FLOWERS OF EVIL) BASED ON THE POETRY OF BAUDELAIRE
WHAT: Les Fleurs du Mal (The Flowers of Evil) based on the poetry of Baudelaire, a dance show at Adelaide Fringe 2023
WHERE: The Garage International @ Adelaide Town Hall, 128 King William St, Entry via Pirie St or Flinders St Laneways UN, Adelaide, Kaurna Country
WHEN: The show is on at the following dates/times:
- 6pm Thursday 23 February,
- 6pm Friday 24 February,
- 5:40pm Saturday 25 February
HOW: Buy your tickets here: https://adelaidefringe.com.au/fringetix/les-fleurs-du-mal-the-flowers-of-evil-based-on-the-poetry-of-baudelaire-af2023
HOW MUCH: Ticket prices are as follows:
- Full Price: $35
- Concession $30
- Bank SA Cardholder $26.25
- Double Your Applause – Admit 1 $70
- Companion Card FREE
For other Adelaide Fringe 2023 shows with French and francophone links, read this article
For events with French and francophone links happening in January 2023, click here