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Report: Avignon Theatre Festival 2014

Satoshi Miyagi's stunning Mahabharata matches perfect setting near Avignon

Satoshi Miyagi's Mahabharata – Nalacharitam
Satoshi Miyagi's Mahabharata – Nalacharitam K. Miura

Beauty .... on stage and off, in Satoshi Miyagi’s telling of one of the stories told in the ancient Indian epic, the Mahabharata. RFI’s Rosslyn Hyams reports.

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The moon was almost full, the stars twinkling in a clear summer sky in the chalky and thym-perfumed Carrière Boulbon, a quarry about 15 kilometres from the City of Avignon in the heart of Provence.

The crickets sing in the breeze at the end of a few days of Mistral.

If that weren’t beauty enough, Satoshi Miyagi, who directs the prestigious Shizuoka Performing Arts Centre in Japan, and his 26 musicians and actors, added more.

On a huge circular stage (very effective for the action and narration of the piece, which sometimes came from behind the spectators sitting on stands in the middle, facing the orchestra), Miyagi decided to tell the one story from the Indian epic “where there’s no battle, no fighting, but where the characters are put to the test, because that’s when the true deepest nature of human beings comes out”.

He tells it in natural whites, in harmony with the quarry sides (the only decor), the traditional Japanese costumes are sculpted (paper texture) and dramatic for the actors (royals, gods or servants), plain, simple and discreet for the chorus, narrator and orchestra (percussion).

“I don’t try to copy traditional Japanese theatre. I use it as part of a more primitive type of theatre which I believe is universal,” says Satoshi Miyagi.

Music, an integral part of the play, is also for everyone, says Miyagi, “in my troupe, language is very important and so is music. All the cast have to share these things, share rhythm. My theatre itself is music.”

The story of King Nala and his wife Damayanti tells of a good monarch who is possessed by a jealous demon and then loses his kingdom in a game of dice with his sly brother from the neighbouring kingdom, and, as a consequence, leaves his beloved wife and children.

Miaygi says the tale is like telling the Mahabharata in a nutshell.

This tale is one that is told to the Pandava brothers while they are in 12 years of exile in the jungle, after their eldest brother has lost their kingdom to their cousins… in a game of dice.

In the audience were some spectators who, in the same Boulbon Quarry at the Festival in 1985, had watched the full version by English director, Peter Brook. For them it was a doubly emotional experience.

Common human experience is at the heart of Miyagi’s work.

The Japanese Mahabharata-Nalacharitam demonstrates the transposability of myths, and thus a common humanness across cultures.

“The deepest human problem is loneliness”, considers Miyagi.

He and his team’s work enabled the audience to leave the Quarry on that starry, starry night accompanied by the luminescent joy and magnificence of the company from Shizuoka.

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