Theater Mitu South India Artist Intensive Faculty

Rubén Polendo (U.S.A./Mexico)
Founding Artistic Director, Theater Mitu

Rubén Polendo is the founding artistic director of the permanent group of collaborators, Theater Mitu. He and his company work towards expanding the definition of theater through rigorous experimentation with its form. Polendo and his company research and investigate global performance as a source for their training, work, and methodologies. This is all driven by what he calls, “Whole Theater,” a theatrical experience that is rigorously visual, aural, emotional, intellectual and spiritual all in the same moment. His practice investigates trans-global performance; interdisciplinary collaborative models; the performativity of non-violence; the geopolitics of objects; contemporary mythology; artist training and education; investigations of the ritual and the sacred. In addition to his scholarly work, Polendo produces theatrical productions that bring these ideas to life. He has directed, curated and/or written a great many of Theater Mitu’s work, which has premiered in theaters Internationally and in the United States. Internationally, these include:  The Cairo Opera House (Cairo, Egypt), Teatro DUOC (Santiago, Chile), Od Nowa (Torun, Poland), Mansion (Beirut, Lebanon), Centro Cultural Paso Del Norte (Mexico), Black Box (Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia), Visthar (Bangalore, India), Patravadi Arts Center (Bangkok, Thailand), Manarat al Saadiyat (UAE) and The NYUAD Arts Center (UAE).  In the United States, these include: Mass MoCA (North Adams, MA), Contemporary Arts Center (New Orleans, LA), Los Angeles Theater Center (Los Angeles, CA), Ignite Arts/CaraMia (Dallas, TX), and Z Space (San Francisco, CA).  Additionally in the United States, Polendo’s work as been seen at Baruch Performing Arts Center, New York Theater Workshop, CSV, The Public, INTAR, Blue Light, Lincoln Center, A.C.T., McCarter, The Perseverance, NAATCO, Mark Taper, Alliance, ETC and South Coast Rep. His Awards and recognitions include the prestigious MAP Fund Grant, the CEC Arts Link Grant, Mid Atlantic Arts Foundation, NY Cultural Development Fund, National Endowment for the Arts, NEFA’s National Theater Project award, the Rolex Protégé Arts Initiative, Company Residencies at NYUAD Arts Center and at New York Theater Workshop, New York State council for the Arts Grant, The Rosenberg Foundation Grant, Alpert Award, Greenwald Foundation Grant and The Mental Insight Foundation Grant, The Watermill Center Resident Artist, and a Sundance Theater Lab resident artist. Polendo has an MFA in directing from the UCLA School of Theater, an M.A. in non-Western theater from Lancaster University in the U.K., and a B.S. in Biochemistry from Trinity University in Texas.  Currently he is Chair of Undergraduate Drama at New York University’s Tisch School of the Arts.  Based in New York City, he continues to create, develop and present work in the US and Internationally.

Justin Nestor (U.S.A.)
Associate Artistic Director, Theater Mitu

Justin Nestor is a performer, researcher and technologist. His work focuses on narrative archeology, the corporeal archive and technology as performer. Working across disciplines, he creates installations and works for the stage that explore the tension and overlap between performance, visual art and technology. His research interests include confinement, surveillance, and data. These ideas manifest in the composition of “remains” within space and time and the construction of ruins to investigate and reconcile what is there, what is not, what once was, and what now is. The creation of false repositories of memory and experience. This is an investigation into what is at once extremely personal and part of a shared human experience. Justin has collaborated on several works with Theater Mitu including those listed below. Justin is a graduate of NYU’s Tisch School of the arts where he has since returned and taught classes in Theater Mitu’s creation methodology as well as interactive technology for performance. Alongside other company members, Justin has also taught workshops in the USA and abroad at institutions like Cincinnati Conservatory of Music, The Eugene O’Neill National Theater Institute, Bringham Young University, The Patravadi Theater (in Bangkok, Thailand), Visthar (in Bangalore, India), Mongolian University of Arts and Culture (Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia) DUOC Universidad de Chile (in Santiago, Chile), Yala Maya Kendra (in Kathamandu, Nepal), and NYU Abu Dhabi where he worked as a research associate studying, documenting, and training in performance in the Middle East, South Asia and beyond. Justin is the head of Theater Mitu’s international training and research initiatives. His recent artistic work has traveled him to countries including India, Nepal, Japan, Mongolia, Thailand, Mexico, Chile, The United Arab Emirates, Oman, Yemen, Egypt, Lebanon, and others. He is the creator and program director for the company’s South India Artist Intensive. Outside of his work with Theater Mitu he has performed in New York City at theaters such as New York Theater Workshop, The Flea, Incubator Arts Project, The Culture Project, and Galapagos Art Space.

Sivakumar Gurukkal (Kollam, India)
Resident Artist, Theater Mitu

Sivakumar Gurukkal is an interdisciplinary artist as well as being a master and teacher of Kalaripayattu, a South Indian Martial Art and system of Aryuvedic health treatment.  Gurukkal is a direct descendent of C.V. Narayanan Nayar, whose master Kottakkal Karnaran Gurukkal is considered the Grand Master of modern Kalaripayattu practice; having founded C.V.N. Kalari, which Gurukkal now runs in Kollam, India.  Gurukkal began training with his father, the late Vasudevan Gurukkal at the age of five.  Since then, Gurukkal’s research has focused on the proliferation of Kalaripayattu around the world. This has pursuit has brought him to Japan, Poland, the UK, and the UAE, among others. He is currently engaged in the choreography of “Lasya Thandavam”, a contemporary work of combining and unifying Kalari with Mohiniattam, the female classical dance form of Kerala.  Recently Gurukkal was featured as the fight director for the blockbuster Malayalam film, Veeram. His work with Theater Mitu has included serving as a master instructor for every South India Artist Intensive, conducting extensive advanced training for company members both in and outside of India, and developing Theater Mitu’s production of Hamlet/UR-Hamlet.  Gurukkal has also hosted yearly short-term training programs for NYU Abu Dhabi students in India. Gurukkal currently resides in Kollam, India where he teaches at CVN Kalari.

Swapna George Sivakumar (Kollam, India)
Resident Artist, Theater Mitu

Swapna George is an interdisciplinary artist and master teacher of Mohiniattam, a South Indian Classical Dance form.  Swapna studied at the Mohiniattam Gurukulam under Sreedevi Rajan who is daughter of Great Guru Kalamandalam Kalyanikutti Amma, who is known as the mother of Mohiniattam.  During her residency there for over seven years, she participated in numerous exchanges with artists around the world. She is currently engaged in the choreography of “Lasya Thandavam”, a contemporary work combining and unifying Kalaripayattu (Martial Art stemming from the Indian state of Kerala) with Mohiniattam. She continues her studies in Kalaripayattu under P.V. Sivakumar Gurukkal. Her work with Theater Mitu has included being a master instructor for all of the company’s South India Artist Intensives, conducting extensive advanced training for company members both in and outside of India, and developing Theater Mitu’s production of Hamlet/ Ur-Hamlet. Swapna has also hosted yearly short term training programs or NYU Abu Dhabi students in India. Swapna currently resides in Kollam, India where  she teaches at CVN Kalari.

Denis Butkus (U.S.A.)
Associate Artist, Theater Mitu

Denis Butkus is a performer, writer, and teacher. As an Associate Artist with Theater Mitu he is a co-creator of the company’s productions Juárez: A Documentary Mythology, Hamlet/UR – Hamlet, and A Dream Play. As a performer his work has been seen onstage internationally in Abu Dhabi, UAE; Beirut, Lebanon; Cairo, Egypt; Santiago, Chile; Juárez, Mexico; Torun, Poland; and Vienna, Austria. Throughout the United States at MASS MoCA, Contemporary Arts Center New Orleans, Los Angeles Theater Center, Ignite Arts/Cara Mia Theatre, Z Space, North American Cultural Laboratory, The Ensemble Theatre Company of Santa Barbara, The Long Wharf Theatre, Intiman Theatre, Seven Devils Playwrights Conference, and Sacramento Theatre Company. In New York City at Lincoln Center Theater, Gerald Schoenfeld Theatre, Theatre for a New Audience, Rattlestick Playwrights Theater, Rising Phoenix Repertory, New York Theater Workshop, The Drama League, The Mint Theater Company, Irish Repertory Theater, The Summer Play Festival, P.S. 122, HERE Arts Center, The Flea Theater, Ars Nova, The Public Theater, Cherry Lane Theatre, Red Bull, and Keen Company. His writing and research focuses on Global Performance and Interdisciplinary Contemporary Art, taking him to Africa (Egypt, Djibouti), The Middle East (The UAE, Qatar, Bahrain, Oman, Jordan, Palestine/Israel, Lebanon, and Turkey), South and East Asia (India, Thailand, and Japan), and the United States. He is a Field Instructor at New York University’s Tisch School of the Arts and has led workshops and master classes at New York University Abu Dhabi, Primary Stages’ Einhorn School of Performing Arts, MCC Theater’s Youth Company, and with Theater Mitu as part of the company’s Artist Intensives in New York City, Japan, and India. Denis received his BFA from The Juilliard School of Drama and his MA in Contemporary Performance Practice from NYU’s Gallatin School where he was awarded the Newington-Cropsey Fellowship for his international research.

Kayla Asbell (U.S.A.)
Adjunct Artist, Theater Mitu

Kayla Asbell is an actor, writer and musician. Kayla focuses primarily on creating and performing in new, original works, whether they be theatre, film or music ventures. She began performing with Theater MITU in 2013 on JUÁREZ: A Documentary Mythology at the NACL Theater in Highland Lake, NY and has since performed with the show in Abu Dhabi, at the Rattlestick Theater in NYC and at Z Space in San Francisco. She was also involved as an actor in the creation of Hamlet/ UR Hamlet and performed with her ‘60s garage-punk band, The Othermen, as part of the piece in Abu Dhabi. Kayla has been playing organ and singing back-up with The Othermen since 2012. They play extensively in New York and across the country and are in the process of writing their third record. Kayla has also been seen in productions such as The Lily’s Revenge and Paris Syndrome (HERE Arts Center), All The Rats and Rags (Joe’s Pub; 3-Legged-Dog Art & Technology Center) and Twelfth Night (Roundtable Ensemble). She has also been performing in short films and as a voiceover artist. She holds a BFA in Drama with a double major in journalism from NYU Tisch School of the Arts/ Playwrights Horizons Theater School.

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