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: MassMoCA (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 has 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.

Denis Butkus 
Associate Artist, Theater Mitu

Denis Butkus is a performer, writer, and teacher. He is an Associate Artist with Theater Mitu and co-creator of the company’s productions Juárez: A Documentary Mythology, Hamlet/UR-Hamlet, and A Dream Play. Most recently he appeared as Happy in the company’s production of Death of a Salesman at The Brooklyn Academy of Music and on tour in Santiago, Chile in association with DUOC UC and Cairo, Egypt as part of the Cairo International Festival for Contemporary and Experimental Theatre. As a performer, his work has been seen onstage internationally in Abu Dhabi, UAE; Beirut, Lebanon; Juárez, Mexico; Torun, Poland; and Vienna, Austria. Throughout the United States at MassMoCA, 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, The Intiman Theater, Seven Devils Playwrights Conference, and The 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, Arts Nova, The Public Theater, Cherry Lane Theatre, Red Bull, and Keen Company. His writing and research focuses on Global Performance and Interdisciplinary Contemporary Art using Archives as creation tools, 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, Nepal, 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 Julliard 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 on Shakespeare.

Kayla Asbell 
Associate Artist, Theater Mitu

Kayla Asbell is a performer, writer, and musician. She is an Associate Artist with Theater Mitu who has been creating and performing work with the company since 2013. Most recently, she played Linda in Theater Mitu’s production of Death of a Salesman, which appeared in New York at The Brooklyn Academy of Music (BAM) and internationally in Santiago, Chile and Cairo, Egypt. She is currently involved in the creation process for Theater Mitu’s new piece, REMNANT, which will premiere in New York in the summer of 2018. For this piece, she has conducted research in Israel, Cambodia, Nepal, India and throughout the United States. Kayla was also involved in the creation process of Hamlet/UR-Hamlet. Her garage-punk-trash band, The Othermen, wrote original music for and performed in Hamlet/UR-Hamlet in Abu Dhabi, UAE. The Othermen play regularly in New York and tour both in the United States and abroad. They are currently recording their third album and you can find their other albums on their bandcamp page! Kayla has also performed in Theater Mitu’s piece, JUÁREZ: A Documentary Mythology in New York (Rattlestick Playwrights Theater), as well as on a national tour: MASS MoCA (North Adams, MA), Contemporary Arts Center New Orleans, Los Angeles Theater Center, Ignite Arts/Cara Mia Theatre (Dallas, TX), Z Space (San Francisco, CA), North American Cultural Laboratory (Highland Park, NY) and internationally in Poland, the UAE, Egypt and Chile. Alongside her work with Theater Mitu, Kayla has also performed at Joe’s Pub, HERE Arts Center, 3-Legged-Dog Art & Technology Center (3LD) and performs in film and voiceover projects as well. Kayla holds a BFA in Drama with a double major in Journalism from NYU Tisch School of the Arts/ Playwrights Horizons Theater School.

Attilio Rigotti 
Associate Artist, Theater Mitu

Attilio Rigotti is a performer, technology artist, video game designer and teacher. After graduating from New York University Abu Dhabi’s inaugural class, his obsession with interactive storytelling and the performing arts has led him to explore the space between video games and theater. Video games create unique, user-centered experiences shaped by players’ choices. Attilio translates this into interactive theatrical experiences in which the audience fundamentally shapes a performance as it happens. Hamlet/UR-Hamlet was Attilio’s first collaboration with Theater Mitu as a performer and co-creator, and he later joined the national and international tour of Juárez: A Documentary Mythology, as well as the company’s production of Death of a Salesman at the Brooklyn Academy of Music, as well as its international stops at Santiago, Chile and Cairo, Egypt. Born and raised in Chile, Attilio has performed, trained, researched and taught around the world in countries such as Chile, Poland, Egypt, Lebanon, India, Japan, Italy, Cuba, Djibouti, the UAE and the US. Nationally, his work on stage has been seen at BAM, Contemporary Arts Center (New Orleans, LA), Ignite Arts/Cara Mia Theatre (Dallas, TX), Los Angeles Theater Center (Los Angeles, CA) and MassMOCA (North Adams, MA). Outside of his work with Mitu, he developed the experimental performance Me[Moria] with Nikolai Kozak at Teatro DuocUC (Santiago, Chile), headed video and projection design for productions with the American Conservatory Theater (ACT) and Phoenix Theater Ensemble, as well as taught at NYU Abu Dhabi as a Global Academic Fellow in Theater and later Assistant Instructor of Production. Attilio is also a ASTEP Fellow and spoke at NYU Abu Dhabi’s inaugural TEDx2014 conference on the significance of video game as an art form.

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 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.


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