Shizuoka Performing Arts Center, directed by Satoshi Miyagi

Mahabharata performance advertising poster © musée du quai Branly - Click to enlarge, open in a new window
Mahabharata performance advertising poster © musée du quai Branly

from Wednesday 6th to Sunday 10th February 2013 (5 performances)

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 theater 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 truly universal theater.


useful information

  • Wednesday February 6th 2013 at 7.00 pm,
  • Thursday 7th, Friday 8th, Saturday 9th February at 8.00 pm,
  • Sunday 10th February at 5.00 pm
  • prices: 15 €/10 e
  • extra: tickets give access to the Museum's Main Collection space on the day of the performance
  • performance for all visitors from 10 years of age, in Japanese, surtitled in French

click here for the ticket office

Presentation by Satoshi Miyagi

Mahabharata, 2006 © musée du quai Branly - Click to enlarge, open in a new window
Mahabharata, 2006 © musée du quai Branly

"If the Mahabharata and the story of King Nala (Naracharitam) had reached Japan in the Heian period what wonderful hanging scrolls might the Japanese not have painted? Thus I began by imagining the scrolls that could have existed. […] 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 mixing 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 nature's balm 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.

Mahabharata, 2006 © musée du quai Branly, photo Antonin Borgeaud - Click to enlarge, open in a new window
Mahabharata, 2006 © musée du quai Branly, photograph Antonin Borgeaud

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’. Meat was once considered a '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."