The poetry whisperers
Les Souffleurs Commandos Poétiques just finished their first India tour, and we want more
After performing at the Jaipur Literature Festival, the Apeejay Kolkata Literary festival and at venues like the Lodhi Art District and National Gallery of Modern Art (NGMA) in Delhi, Les Souffleurs Commandos Poétiques (which loosely translates to “The Whisperers: Commando Poets") made their way to Bengaluru this week to perform their unique “poetic interventions" at various public spaces.
Founded by theatre actor Olivier Comte in 2001 in France, Les Souffleurs Commandos Poétiques is a collective of around 40 artists—comedians, writers, dancers, musicians, sculptors—that travels around the world hosting public events during which they literally whisper poetry into the ears of bystanders whom they choose at random.
In Bengaluru, during an evening performance at the courtyard of the VR Bengaluru mall in Whitefield, the commandos look like a flock of wise crows in the light of the setting sun. They are always, always dressed in black, holding black umbrellas and black Japanese fans—and carrying a long black speaking tube-like thing made of cane, through which they whisper into the ear of the listener.
Though the performance is public, in the sense it takes place in public places—the commandos have often performed in unconventional ones like banks and offices, and they say there’s no space they cannot transform into one suitable for poetry—it is also intensely intimate. The commando whispers verses into one listener’s ear through the speaking tube (which they call rossignols, the French word for “nightingale") and the experience is between these two individuals alone.
It is a dramatic, though soundless, performance as the commandos move around the space with a restless energy, bending and squatting and pirouetting and lying down on the ground in a circle, holding their umbrellas aloft. One gets the feeling that this intervention is as much visual as it is aural.
The idea is to “slow down the world", Julia Loyez, one of the nine performers from the group that has travelled to India, says later. She is one of the few who speaks English with any degree of comfort—and yet, the commandos have been whispering poetry in English, Hindi, Urdu and Bengali during their time in India. The trick is to understand and feel the poem, says Loyez.
While their English repertoire consists of verses and writings by a wide range of writers, from Shakespeare to Indian poets writing in English, the group created a special selection of readings for the India tour, including the work of Indian poets like Rabindranath Tagore, Gulzar, Ajneya, Kedarnath Singh, Debarati Mitra and Vijaya Mukhopadhyay—tailoring each reading for the city they found themselves in.
We can’t wait for them to be back.
FIRST PUBLISHED07.02.2020 | 04:12 PM IST