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January 2005

Is the International Zone becoming a Cultural zone?

- by Robert

A proposal to create the Shakespeare International Theatre of Auroville in the International Zone has raised the question of the role of the Cultural Zone and the International Zone. Is the International Zone the right place to build a centre like that?


Is it not interfering with Mother's idea of having four zones, including a Cultural Zone for cultural activities like theatre? “Not at all”, says Jill Navarre, one of the two project holders. “I think it perfectly fits with Mother's concept of the International Zone (IZ), for the IZ should be a window to the outer world.” The slim-built curly haired American elucidates: “Auroville needs a theatre. At present five groups are busy with theatre in Auroville, without a good place to perform. The Sri Aurobindo Auditorium in Bharat Nivas is too big and expensive. To rehearse there costs 1500 Rupees a month. This is the money they need to maintain the building, but for small groups without much budget it is too expensive. The stage at the Visitors Center is not ideal for theatre, there is no wing space and no changing room. The third possibility, the Kalabhumi amphitheatre, is suitable for home grown theatre, but since it is in the Cultural Zone it is not meant to invite audiences from outside”, states Jill,Jill who also points out the lack of dressing rooms, space for make up, and problems with the electricity supply. “Also Pitanga and the New Creation Dance Studio are for various reasons not options for playing theatre”, she continues. “We are happy with the plot that Jacques from Auroville's Future showed us in the International Zone and we would like to build it there, possibly as a joint-effort by the pavilion groups from the United States and the UK . We ‘ll call the building the Shakespeare International Theatre of Auroville (SITA). By using Shakespeare's name we honour this genius of dramatic literature, but we want to stress that it is not only a stage for plays from Shakespeare. The plot we were shown is situated on the future Crown Road , behind where the Matrimandir Nursery is.”

Project holders Jill Navarre and Anne Goldsmith intend that the theatre should be a centre for international performance and research into the future direction of theatre. In their view, the Shakespeare International Theatre of Auroville can be the stage where the soul of each nation can be discovered through the arts, especially drama. But why not build this theatre in the Cultural Zone. Isn't this a better place for it? Jill thinks not: “The Cultural Zone is a place for Auroville's artists to teach and to work in a more contained atmosphere. It is quieter and more internally focussed. The International Zone is more to create an interface between Auroville and the world, and that's why this theatre should be in the International Zone.” Jill and Anne are enthusiastic about the idea of drawing international artists and attracting international students of theatre to Auroville . AnneThey dream of a complete theatre complex with a costume shop and storage room, set design shop, space for props and lighting equipment, besides dressing rooms, showers and toilets. Further, the theatre complex would offer a shaded courtyard where theatre lovers can meet and interact. Here people can dine, snack or just have a drink. A health food restaurant will adjoin the courtyard. The theatre complex should be built in phases. First the main theatre, and later a rehearsal room, library, office, Guest House for visiting artists and students, a café and a caretaker's flat. The finances are not there yet, but the two are sure that the money can be raised. At first Anne and Jill will request funds for the fencing, and water and electricity connections. They have presented the plan to the International Zone Group, which responded positively. Also Auroville's chief architect Roger Anger is said to have given his blessings. According to him the future Crown Road is a good location for it.


Better in Cultural Zone?

But not everybody supports the plan. Why not adapt an existing building? If a new theatre is built would the costs of maintainance be less than 1500 Rupees previously mentioned? Even some in the UK pavilion group have reservations, and so have AVI-UK and the Auroville Planning and Development Council (APDC) who would like to be better informed about Mother's vision and the difference between the Cultural and the International Zone before giving the green light. The APDC wonders why the building cannot be built in the Cultural Zone, for, as we can read on the Auroville website “…the Cultural Zone is meant to explore the fruits of all cultures through their diverse expressions in music, dance, painting, sculpture, theatre etc.” Some planners in Auroville's townhall too have problems with it. Says architect and planner Sheril, “They want to build it on the Crown, but then there will be no space left for other future buildings,” pointing at a groundplan hanging on the wall in her office. “Besides, you cannot plan a building when the rest of the International Zone is not yet known.” And there she has a point. Though there are rough ideas about how the International Zone might develop, nothing is clear yet.

At the moment a brainstorming group consisting of members of the International Zone Group is developing a proposal for the International Zone. “I think the idea of the Shakepeare International Theatre of Auroville can be integrated into it”, says Swiss social-psychologist and newcomer Ingo, one of the members. “The International Zone should consist of the University of Unity , the Pavilions, and a type of boulevard for pedestrians, and interface buildings that are meant for the contact with visitors and tourists. There should be seminar rooms, a cinema hall, meeting halls, encounter spaces and a multi-purpose building. The second phase of the Unity Pavilion could come up at the same time.”


Villagers from Kottakarai have squatted on the paramboke (government-owned) land, which Auroville needs for the International Zone, but which has not yet been bought. That is a problem, for some of the 80 Tamil households (300 people) that live there now, have in the meantime legalised their situation. Auroville could try to relocate them, but the task is politically sensitive. The brainstorm group is in favour of integrating the squatters. Ingo: “The local Tamil people could also have a place in the International Zone. We want to implement a village market, a stage for local cultural events, and perhaps even a marriage hall. We are even thinking of asking the Tamil population of Kottakarai to open guest houses for visitors of the International Zone, so that the foreigners can experience Tamil life.”

The brainstorm group has also come up with the idea of constructing ‘landing offices' for the pavilions. Auroville pavilion groups and town planners can work here, preparing the contruction of new pavilions. At the moment the Unity pavilion could be used for that.

For many years little has moved in the International Zone, but now there seems to be new energy around. In Bharat Nivas the unfinished restaurant building, has been transformed into an art centre, called Kalakendra. Atithi Griha Guesthouse is a success. The Pavilion of Tibetan Culture is blossoming, and in the recently expanded Savitri Bhavan many activities are being organised. The Visitors Centre is also expanding with new shops and a soon to be opened exhibition space to be opened. The US Pavilion Group has completed a student guesthouse and the first phase of the Unity Pavilion is ready and functioning. But the next big step in the development – building on the Crown – has not been taken. Maybe it was not clear what to do exactly in that zone-section, but maybe also there was another factor. When the Crown is built the International Zone will be much more visible, and thus will start to attract visitors. Does Auroville want that and how will it deal with the crowds? In a well received draft concept of the International Zone Group, Ruslan and Sergei, write: “The International Zone is not an exhibition or an area for casual visitors.” In the same draft the two describe the main aims of the International Zone: “…..to help the people of different cultures of each nation to become conscious of their deepest roots and their highest possibilities in the context of the Auroville experiment for realising actual Human Unity.” It seems that the International Zone will have buildings related to study where casual visitors are not wanted. But how to organise this? Architect Helmut thinks of a more pragmatic approach. He envisions kiosks in every pavilion about things related to Auroville. Tourists could get information on a simple level and could thus also participate in the Auroville experience. Others shudder at the idea and think that only those who are really interested in Auroville, people who are coming for a well defined purpose should be able to enter the pavilions and university. In the International Zone Group a majority favours a restricted entrance for tourists. Issuing passes, just like the passes for the Inner Chamber in Matrimandir seems to be the solution.

The chief architect of Auroville Roger Anger considers the IZ to be the most important of the four zones of Auroville. In a recent meeting with town planners and the IZ Group he expressed that there is an urge to take the next step. In fact he wants clarity on a general master plan for the International Zone within two months.

The theatre proposal and the plans from the brainstorm group could be part of it. The details of these two ideas will be presented at the AVI-meeting, which will take place in Auroville from January 14-18.


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