Directed by Satoshi Miyagi
Shizuoka Performing Arts Center is a Japanese contemporary theatre company directed by Satoshi Miyagi, whose Kabuki-inspired direction is based on the dissociation of the Logos and Pathos; the word and the body.
This Mahabharata was created in 2003 at the Tokyo National Museum: a single storyteller narrates the text of the 25 actors who perform on stage, tracing one of the episodes of this mythical Indian epic; the story of King Nala.
Involving sumptuous masks, Japanese paper costumes in the tradition of the Heian period (9th–12th centuries A.D.) and a variety of percussion forms (gamelan, djembe etc.) this Japanese Mahabharata, presented at the opening of the Claude Lévi-Strauss theatre in 2006, is a total performance in which the energy of the interpreters, the epic scale, visual beauty and extraordinary vitality combine to produce a genuine universal theatre.
“Mahabharata - Naracharitam” interview with Satoshi Miyagi, the director.
“If the Mahabharata and the story of King Nala (Naracharitam) had reached Japan in the Heian period what wonderful hanging scrolls might not the Japanese have painted? Thus I began by imagining the scrolls that could have existed. “Konjaku monogatari” (Tales of ancient feats) published during the same period contains a large number of stories which originated in ‘The Buddhist Tales (Jahtaka)’ in India 2,000 years before. Indeed, the first and fifth volumes of “Konjaku monogatari” are devoted to India. It is obvious that the culture from India, also a great Asian country like China, has greatly influenced Japanese culture, for example more than half of the Shichifukujin (Seven gods of happiness) comes from India.
Under these circumstances, it is highly likely that the “Mahabharata” made its way into Japanese culture, yet to the best of my knowledge no shows or literary works have been directly influenced by this text, which is why I decided to bring it to the stage. So we began the production. I think one of Japan’s most interesting features is the tendency towards the mixing of cultures. Whether they came from the continent and the peninsula or from the southern ocean, a multitude of peoples and cultures have found their way to the Japanese archipelago. The people who lived at that time had no need to define their identity when faced with newcomers, they accepted the newcomers with an open mind, changing and adapting with each encounter. The newcomers adapted naturally to the balminess of nature and the four seasons. I think Japanese culture is enigmatic, ambiguous, wily and constantly changing.
When something new comes along, even if it becomes the fashion, even if it has to fight against or put up with temporary resistance, it never takes the place of what came before, it ends up by blending in. At the same time, what came before goes on existing simply following the passage of time. I have seen this in the objects on show at the Tokyo National Museum where we gave the first performance of the Mahabharata. One very remarkable example is the integration of Buddhism into the culture.
Shortly after the arrival of Buddhism, there was a huge conflict which could have led to the overthrow of the government. A few centuries later, this new religion was reconciled to Japan’s original religion. The idea was even put forward that the Japanese gods were at the origin of Buddhism. This does not mean that the new elements were integrated into the existing ones, but rather that the original religion drew new elements from the new religion, that the Japanese learned from Buddhism and thus evolved. Another more recent example is food. The Japanese, traditionally, were not meat-eaters; they considered meat as ‘medicine’.
Nowadays, the Japanese eat meat every day. Yet traditional food has not disappeared. As they adapted themselves to this new diet, so the Japanese adapted their bodies to its new requirements. Thus I decided to confront the ‘other’ represented by the Mahabharata, while at the same time keeping my distance, from it just as the Japanese have always known how to do throughout their history of dealings with the outside world.
Director. Head of the Shizuoka Performing Art Center. Born in Tokyo, he studied aesthetics at Tokyo University where he also studied the theatre under such teachers as Yushi Odajima, Moriaki Watanabe or Hatsiro Hidaka. It was while he was at university that he began producing his first creations and developed a unique method of teaching drama based on oriental gymanastics.
In 1990, he founded the KU NA’UKA company. The most striking feature of this company is the “two actors play one role” technique : one actor tells the story while the other acts it out on the stage during the telling. This method illustrates the distance that separates word and body (Logos and Pathos) in the man of today. The energy that has been suppressed is thus split into two and creates a new dynamism beyond reality. The director uses this form of energy particularly in the interpretation of the Greek tragedies.
For many years he has multiplied the exchanges with foreign artists. The Ku Na’uka Company is constantly being invited to foreign theatres or festivals. Typical plays are ANTIGONE by Spocre, MEDEA by Euripides, OTHELLO in No h style after W.Shakespeare, SALOME by Oscar Wilde, A STREET CAR NAMED DESIRE by Tennessee Williams, SAKURAHIMEAZUMABUNSHO by TSURUYA Nanboku, Tale of the Keep (Tenshu-Monogatari) by IZUMI Kyoka, TROPICAL TREE by MISHIMA Yukio.
In 1995 for the first edition of Theatre Olympics in Delphi, he presented Elektra with the famous Suzuki Company of Toga and Tadashi Suzuki and then toured with the play to Copenhagen, Stockholm, Beijing and Shanghai. In 1999, for the second edition of Theatre Olympics in Shizuoka, Satoshi Miyagi presented Chushin-gura, a play originally written for Bunraku and Kabuki, but which was freely adapted by Oriza Hirata.
Satoshi Miyagi is head of the International Department of Theater Interaction -Japan- and the Japanese representative at the BeSeTo (Beijing, Seoul, Tokyo) Theatre Festival. In April 2007, he took over from Tadashi Suzuki as artistic director of the Shizuoka Performing Arts Centre.