By PAWIT MAHASARINAND
AFTER 30 YEARS of representing Japan all over the world – including a memorable performance of “Three Sisters” at the Patravadi Theatre – theatre company Papa Tarahamura disbanded in 2012. Its founder, Hiroshi Koike, was quick to set up a new company, and over the past couple of years the Hiroshi Koike Bridge Project’s “The Milky Way Train” and “The Restaurant of Many Orders” have been delighting audiences in different countries.
The company, which aims to educate people who can “think through their body” and create a bridge between cultures as an art project, also has a long term project “Mahabharata”. The first chapter, featuring performers from Cambodia, Malaysia, Indonesia and Japan, was seen in Phnom Penh and Hanoi in 2013. Created in Kerala, India, “Chapter 2” featured performers from India, Malaysia, Thailand [northern Thai dancer Waewdao Sirisook], Indonesia and Japan and premiered at the International Theatre Festival of Kerala, before touring to Mumbai, Kuala Lumpur and Jakarta this January.
Now Chapter 2.5 – a reworking of the second chapter – is coming to Bangkok next week and one of the stars is Sunon Wachirawarakarn, a veteran of Pichet Klunchun Dance Company.
“Audiences in India and Indonesia were particularly enthusiastic, because in these countries everybody knows the ‘Mahabharata story’ and so is so familiar with the characters. In other cities, the audience understood it through the performers’ expression and physical movements.” Koike says.
“I’ve been interested in ‘Mahabharata’ for a long time. However, after the big disaster in Fukushima, I started to reconsider ‘Mahabharata’ again. This story has a lot of human wisdom and I wanted to consider what human beings are.”
Earlier this year, Koike held an audition at Democrazy Theatre Studio and had no hesitation in picking Sunon to join “Mahabharata Chapter 2.5”.
Because of budget problems, we couldn’t do ‘Chapter 3’, so ‘Chapter 2.5’ is a rework of ‘Chapter 2’ but with many changes. Japanese dancers replace Indian ones and another dancer and a percussionist are added and several new scenes are made,” he explains.
A recipient of Asian Cultural Council fellowship, Sunon’s solo performance “Home” won him best performance by a male artist award by International Association of Theatre Critics’ Thailand Centre in 2012.
Koike notes, “He’s a great performer who can deliver his lines and dance very well.”
With support from Japan Foundation Bangkok, Sunon has been living and rehearsing in Tokyo since last month, and says he’s enjoying the experience.
“With Pichet Klunchun Dance Company, I performed twice in Japan, but this is a totally new experience, not only rehearsing in this work but also living, travelling and of course eating various kinds of Japanese food for 40 days. And of course I can’t speak Japanese,” he laughs.
“This chapter has nine performers – seven Japanese, one Malay and myself – who portray more than 20 characters. With the change of masks and costumes, every one of us is doing multiple roles. I personally have five roles.
“The use of Indonesian masks has also been a learning experience for me. I’m more familiar with khon [classical Thai masked dance theatre] masks. With the different position of the holes for the performers’ eyes, I’ve needed to adjust.”
As a physical theatre work, “Mahabharata Chapter 2.5” has both dialogue and movements. But, says Sunon, this is not a problem for the audience. “I’m speaking Thai, the Malay performer Mandarin but there will be Thai surtitles when Malay and Japanese performers are speaking. The surtitles will change accordingly when we later perform in Shanghai, Manila and Tokyo. Of course, the multiple languages are a challenge for the cast and crew during the rehearsal.”
“Mahabharata Chapter 2.5” is another project substantially supported by the Japan Foundation’s Asia Centre, which has made possible many intercultural collaboration ad exchange projects in recent years.
Sunon says, “This work has been prepared with various ingredients from different nationalities, languages, cultures, thoughts as well as lifestyles. One performer is keen on western ballet, another one on Balinese dance, another on martial arts and another on acrobatics. We’re now united and telling the battle tales of two families. How deeply can we touch the audience with these characters? Well, you’ll have to experience it with your eyes and with an open mind.”
And with Japanese and Indian music, Indian set design and Indonesian masks, Koike is sure audiences will enjoy the mix.
“Artists from six Asian countries are involved in this production yet those watching the show will find much harmony in this mix of cultures,” he says.
ON WITH THE SHOW
- “Mahabharata Chapter 2.5” makes its world premiere at 7.30pm on Monday and Tuesday at the Sodsai Pantoomkomol Centre for Dramatic Arts at Chulalongkorn University. The venue is a 10-minute walk from BTS Siam Exit 6.
- Tickets are Bt600 (Bt300 for students; Bt400 for professional artists and those under 27 years old). Call (02) 218 4802 or (081) 559 7252, or e-mail [email protected]
- Hiroshi Koike will conduct physical theatre workshops from 1 to 4pm on Tuesday and Wednesday. Admission is free. To apply, e-mail [email protected]
- For more on Koike, check www.kikh.com.