Renowned Contemporary Company from Manipur, India Presents "Nine Hills One Valley"
Ratan Thiyam and his 26-member Chorus Repertory Theatre from Manipur, India, whose North American debut of Uttar-Priyadarshi (The Final Beatitude) dazzled American audiences in 2000, return to the U.S. in the Fall of 2006 with their new production Nine Hills One Valley (Chinglon Mapan Tampak Ama), a haunting and powerful theatrical allegory that confronts the turmoil that consumes Thiyam's native land today.
Now celebrating its 30th anniversary, this world-renowned theater company, which has toured in over 30 countries, will open its 5-week U.S. tour with two New York City-area engagements - at Brooklyn Academy of Music's NEXT WAVE Festival in New York, October 11-14, and at Newark's New Jersey Performing Arts Center on October 15. Other hosts include Carolina Performing Arts in Chapel Hill (NC), the Lied Center of Kansas in Lawrence; the Mondavi Center at UC Davis; and Cal Performances at UC Berkeley. (See attached schedule.) The tour is co-produced by Asia Society and Lisa Booth Management and is made possible, in part, with support from the Indian Council for Foreign Relations and the Ford Foundation.
Writer, director, composer, designer, painter and actor, Ratan Thiyam is considered one of the most important and influential theater-makers on the international performance scene. In October of 2000, the New York Times critic Margo Jefferson hailed Ratan Thiyam as a "genius" and the "experience of seeing Uttar-Priyadarshi transcendent." She wrote, "We need theatre that joins history to ritual, and not because ritual should transcend history, but because ritual can transform it. You can witness this transformation if you are lucky enough to see Ratan Thiyam's Chorus Repertory Theatre of Manipur."
Performed by a cast of 26, Nine Hills One Valley premiered in October 2005 in New Delhi, India. A haunting and poetic theatrical allegory, the production confronts the turmoil that consumes Manipur, India today. In the face of violence, venality, instability, and poverty, Thiyam asks, how do we sustain ourselves when our cultural traditions are cut off, lost? The work's title describes the natural beauty of Manipur and its geography. Bordered by Bhutan, Bangladesh, and Burma, this culturally rich and politically unsettled region is a hill-state of North-East India.
Nine Hills One Valley is "a poem by birth, a collage of many ideas without a conventional plot," says Thiyam. "It depicts what I see and what I feel about various systems, which ultimately lead a place and its people to many difficult problems. It is a document of a restless society and political turmoil where the sufferers are only the common people."
As Nine Hills One Valley begins, seven wise men, Maichousing, carriers of history and culture, are suddenly jolted from eternal slumber by nightmares. Sons run from a barrage of bullets, desperately seeking the safety of their mothers' arms. Time, a howling demon, disfigures the sacred dancers of the Raas Lila. Atrocities are reduced to ephemeral headlines in day-old newspapers that fill the stage raising questions on the issues and problems of modern world and people of this century. What is happening to their progeny, the people of Manipur? Reluctantly, the Maichousing return to write new Puyas - books of wisdom and seek out principals of justice, equality, governance, loyalty, homeland, and obligation. They call for the liberation of the mind from the tyranny and oppression of stagnation, but most of all they urge us to look deeply within our souls to find the key to end the restlessness that has enveloped our societies. At the end of Nine Hills One Valley, mothers sing lullabies to console their children. Lamps are lit on the hilltops and in the valley to remind the people of their past glory and petition for the return of peace now lost.
In his review of the work, critic Gowri Ramnarayan of Frontline (India) wrote, "Thiyam's visual spectacles have always been unrivalled...Panoramic, colourful, always global, shining with ideals, the new production has all these attributes. It has something more. That `something' arises from the fact that Nine Hills relies less on pageantry and more on poetry. It has epic sweep but also becomes as personal as a sonnet. It billows into a universal lament, and warning."
Meticulously crafted, Nine Hills One Valley is rich in visual imagery that reference traditional crafts and performing and martial arts. Importantly, as much as it directly reflects Manipur, the production transcends the immediacy of place, language and aesthetics to speak across cultural and geographic borders. For Thiyam, this perspective is not a matter of choice; it is the reality of contemporary life.
"I'll tell you, this is the condition of modern man: that you live somewhere, but you are compelled to think about the world - because you cannot be separated, or stand aloof from the problems of the world," said Thiyam. "The sufferings I am facing in this small place are not different from what is happening elsewhere. Suppose oil is burning in Kuwait or in Iraq; that does not mean that I will not suffer because I am in another corner of the globe. Sitting in Manipur, I think about the Gaza Strip, I think about Israel or Palestine, or America, about Afghanistan, about Pakistan and its relationship with India, Kashmir, bomb blasts in Bali. Globalization impinges on your own identity as a modern man and also on your native identity."
Chorus Repertory Theatre was established by Ratan Thiyam in April 1976. Located on the outskirts of Imphal, Manipur's capital city, Chorus Repertory Theatre's two-acre campus has been slowly built (and six-times rebuilt after disastrous monsoons) to accommodate a self-sufficient way of life, with housing and working quarters for the company. Its centerpiece is a stunning 300-seat auditorium conceived and designed by Thiyam with space for set construction and storage. Called The Shrine, it is now an important regional and national center for contemporary theater.
The company has performed throughout India, and appeared at major international festivals including those in Edinburgh, Glasgow, Cardiff, Dublin, Avignon, Perth, Adelaide, Bogotá, Rome, Cervantino, Mitsui, and Toga. Chorus Repertory Theatre has also performed in London and Paris, Bangkok, and Taipei and has toured countries including Greece, the former USSR, Holland, Cuba, Peru, Bangladesh, Japan, France, Australia, Switzerland, Brazil, Sri Lanka, New Zealand, and Germany. The Company made its U.S. debut in 2000. A major retrospective of Thiyam's work with Chorus Repertory Theatre, featuring at least six fully mounted plays will be held in Pune, India in December 2006.
Asia Society (co-producer) is the leading global organization working to strengthen relationships and promote understanding among the people, leaders, and institutions of Asia and the United States. We seek to enhance dialogue, encourage creative expression, and generate new ideas across the fields of policy, business, education, arts, and culture. Founded in 1956, Asia Society is a nonpartisan, nonprofit educational institution with offices in Hong Kong, Houston, Los Angeles, Manila, Melbourne, Mumbai, New York, San Francisco, Shanghai, and Washington, D.C.
Lisa Booth Management, Inc. (co-producer) is a New York City-based firm that initiates, produces, and manages performing arts projects in conjunction with artists, producers, and presenting organizations. Specializing in contemporary theater, dance, and performance, activities include touring American artists worldwide, producing North American tours for foreign artists, general managing performance seasons, and creating special projects and events. Since 1984, LBMI projects have taken place in more than 300 cities in 45 states and 20 countries.
The USA tour of Nine Hills One Valley has also been made possible with support from the Asian Cultural Council, and the Association of Performing Arts Presenters Ensemble Theatre Collaborations Grant Program, a component of the Doris Duke Charitable Foundation Theatre Initiative.
Brooklyn Academy of Music Next Wave Festival, BAM Howard Gilman Opera House, October 11-14 at 7:30 p.m., (718) 636-4100
New Jersey Performing Arts Center, Prudential Hall, October 15 at 7 p.m., (888) 466-5722
Carolina Performing Arts at University of North Carolina/Chapel Hill, Memorial Auditorium, October 26 at 7:30 p.m. & October 27 at 8 p.m., (919) 843-3333
Lied Center of Kansas at University of Kansas, Lawrence, November 1 & 2 at 7:30 p.m., (785) 864-2787
Mondavi Center at UC Davis, Jackson Hall, November 8 at 8 p.m., (866) 754-2787
Cal Performances at UC Berkeley, Zellerbach Hall, November 10 & 11 at 8 p.m., (510) 642-9988
Writer, director, designer, musician, painter, and actor, Ratan Thiyam is best recognized today as one of the most important theater makers on the international scene. The son of Manipuri dance masters, for a time Thiyam studied painting before turning to writing. He has written short stories, novels, poetry and plays.
Writing led him to theatre. "I started reading plays," he said. "Besides writing reviews, I felt the need for professional training." In 1971 he enrolled at the National School of Drama in Delhi and gained a reputation as a powerful director and actor. In 1976 he returned to Manipur and founded the Chorus Repertory Theatre.
Except for a two-year stint as Director of India's National School of Drama from 1986-88, Manipur has remained both the physical and aesthetic foundation for his work. Ratan Thiyam's theater typically reflects a quest for enlightenment, reconciliation, and peace by examining the human condition through an exploration of war and power. He has directed more than 50 plays, original scripts as well as adaptations. His original Chakravyuha (The Wheel of War), catapulted him onto the world stage in 1984, was awarded the Fringe Firsts Award of the Edinburgh International Theatre Festival in 1987 and Diploma of Cervantino International Theatre Festival, 1990 (Mexico) and has since been performed more than 100 times around the globe. Uttar Priyadarshi (The Final Beatitude), toured the U.S. in 2000. Blind Age, Ritusamharam, and Hey Nungshibi Prithvi (My Earth, My Love) are more recently acclaimed works.
Ratan Thiyam's many awards include the Sangeet Natak Akademi in 1987; Nandikar in 1992; La Grande Medaille (Paris) 1997; International Man of the Year, 1998-99 in the field of Theatre and Humanism, conferred by the International Biographical Center, Cambridge; B.M. Shah Award 2000; Ganakrishti Award 2002; and the B.V. Karanth Smriti Puraskar 2004. In 2006 he received the One India One People award and Madhya Pradesh government's Rashtriya Kalidas Samman award, one of India's most prestigious cultural prizes. He received Padma Shri in 1989, one of the India's highest civilian honors but returned it in 2001.
Content, Style and Aesthetic
Ratan Thiyam's Chorus Repertory Theatre draws on epic themes, historical figures, and cultural practice to explore issues of personal responsibility, cognizance, good, evil, and community obligation. Mesmerizing tapestries of rhythm, music, poetry, light, speech, and color, Thiyam's works reflect an intensive and holistic production style. All members are trained in dance, acting, martial arts, stage craft, and design, which embrace traditional Manipuri forms (such as the martial art Thang Ta) as well as other methods, developed over time to support CRT's aesthetic approach. Emphasis on vocal and breath techniques and in physical stamina and control provides the means to accomplish impressive aural and movement feats. Thiyam's works are tightly choreographed; his actors must physically push the limits of character.
"I have always found human expression more convincing when it is physically portrayed, when there is a body rhythm," he said.
In Thiyam's productions, the empty stage space is filled and magnified through complex and changing use of movement, saturated color, light, props, costumes, and mobile set pieces. Each element is essential to completing the whole.
The aural environments created for Thiyam's productions are an encompassing mix of text (sung, spoken, chanted, spit out), music, stamping feet, whispers. Like a film score, sound is used to foreshadow, comment on and accelerate action. It reinforces intent and clarifies meaning.
Language in Thiyam's plays goes beyond the simple conveyance of text. While written in Meitei, the native language of Manipur, Thiyam has evolved his own language of theater. Words are as important for their acoustic power as for their actual meaning.
Writing of Chorus Repertory Theatre's Kennedy Center debut in 2000, the Washington Post characterized Thiyam's work as "visually arresting, beguilingly mythic and intensely theatrical."
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