Theatre Olympics kicks off in Delhi; here's what you need to know about the prestigious event
51 days, 400 shows, 600 performances: the 8th edition of the Theatre Olympics kick off in Delhi, at the Red Fort this evening | #FirstCulture
This will be a landmark year for theatre in India, marking the apotheosis of an unbroken 2,500-year-old tradition. The eighth edition of the Theatre Olympics is all set to be launched at the Red Fort this evening (Saturday, 17 February 2018). Spread over 51 days, the lineup of 450 unmissable shows and 600 theatrically ambitious, ambient performances will see a blurring of boundaries between different genres cultures, ideas and forms. Organised by the National School of Drama, this unique theatre-carnival will be spread over 17 cities that include Agartala, Ahmedabad, Bengaluru, Bhopal, Bhubaneswar, Chandigarh, Chennai, Delhi, Guwahati, Imphal, Jaipur, Jammu, Kolkata, Mumbai, Patna, Thiruvananthapuram and Varanasi.
The genesis of the Theatre Olympics can be attributed to visionary Greek director, Theodoros Terzopoulos. Terzopoulos organised a seminal international conclave on ancient Greek theatre, an event with pop-up performances, symposia and workshops at Delphi, in 1985. Exuberant at the success of the event, he was consumed by the idea of creating an international festival that could lead global theatre practitioners into open dialogue beyond the borders of different languages, cultures and ideologies.
To this end, an international committee with eight iconic theatre practitioners was formed — Theodoros Terzopoulos, Suzuki Tadashi, Yuri Lyubimov, Heiner Müller, Robert Wilson, Tony Harison, Nuria Espert and Antunes Filho. The committee now has 14 members; the eight original founders and Jürgen Flimm, Georges Lavaudant , Wole Soyinka, Georgio Barberio Corsetti , Ratan Thiyam, and Choi Chy-rim. The first Theatre Olympics was held in Delphi, in 1995.
The symbolism of Delphi, linked to the ancient Pythian Games that were held there, was not lost on spectators and art critics, and contributed to turning the first Theatre Olympics into a memorable, immersive event. As the artistic director of the festival, Terzopoulos designed the programme with the theme of ‘Tragedy’ that was fundamentally structured around ancient Greek drama and was titled ‘Crossing Millennia’. His own productions of Antigone and Prometheus Bound enthralled the audience as did productions like Dionysus and Electra directed by Suzuki Tadashi; Persephone, inspired by TS Eliot’s The Waste Land and directed by Robert Wilson, The Labourers of Herakles directed by Tony Harrison, and Birds by Aristophanes directed by Yuri Lyubimov.
The second Theatre Olympics, ‘Creating Hope’, was organised in Shizuoka in 1999, the third in Moscow in 2001, the fourth in Istanbul in 2006, the fifth in Seoul in 2010 — designed as ode to love and humanity, the sixth in Beijing in 2014 — a tribute to dreams. The seventh edition organised at Wroclaw in 2016 played with the title of a text by a legendary figure in Polish theatre — Jerzy Grotowski — ‘The World as a Place for Truth’, and focused on new work by directors who have radically altered the face of theatre in the 20th and 21st centuries.
International collaboration and theatrical exchanges have been part of the Bharat Rang Mahotsav, organised by NSD every year. The Mahotsav plays an important role in Delhi’s theatre ecosystem and attracts theatre practitioners feted the world over. The Theatre Olympics is a much scaled up version of the Rang Mahotsav. Theatre directors, choreographers and actors from 30 countries are here with their productions, as also our own towering visual geniuses like Ratan Thiyam (who is the artistic-director of this theatrical extravaganza), Alyque Padamsee, Rudraprasad Senengupta, MK Raina, Raj Bisara, Bansi Kaul, Prof. Tripurari Sharma, Maya Rao and Soumitra Chatterjee. Such a repertoire is historically unprecedented. Several avant-garde student shows, folk, street-theatre, puppetry and magic-shows have been also planned together with seminars, workshops, conclaves, living-legend interfaces and master-classes.
In the words of NSD director Waman Kendre, who has put together this brilliantly crafted programme, “Fortunately we are still not a society where people live in digitalised solitude. There is a growing appetite for literature, dance, music and theatre festivals. Our edition of Theatre Olympics will fuel the demand for theatre and the performing arts in India. It will, in the tradition of earlier Olympics, create space for fermentation and artistic exchanges. It will celebrate the extraordinary in ordinary people’s lives and provide fillip to art, music, dance and theatre avant-garde”.
The opening performance on Saturday evening is ‘Geet Rang’, a collage of Indian theatre music used in plays by NSD, composed by iconic directors and composers like BV Karanth, Habib Tanvir and Kajal Ghosh. Prof. Kendre’s directorial flourishes have been at work in making it a remarkable, dramatic spectacle. The line-up of productions in the coming weeks is also formidable. From Greece, Eugenia Arsenis’s play Women of Passion, directed by Tatiana Liagari; Antigone, performed by the Mandala Theatre of Nepal; Medea, by a group from Sri Lanka; Pathology of Political Geneology, a play inspired by Jean Racine’s Phoedra, by a group from Bangladesh; and a plethora of other performances by some of the best theatre practitioners.
What is it that makes theatre work? Marianna Calbari, a Greek playwright, director and actor who shot to fame at the height of her country’s economic crisis, feels that theatre works because audiences want to see credible stories in a world that so often makes no sense. They want Chekhov, Shakespeare, and Ibsen. They want answers to eternal questions. Interestingly, some of the special invitees to our Theatre Olympics are stage provocateurs and enfant terribles of contemporary European theatre like Romeo Castellucci and Jan Fabre. Hence, if some plays are going to leave one with a sharpened sense of life’s joy, others will definitely provoke ennui, dissent and outrage. And that is what will make this festival work.
Sujata Prasad is a writer, columnist and civil servant