Festival Àsia - Kathakali theatre
The Festival Àsia always brings a welcome and exotic vibrancy to the bleached-out, tail end of the summer. Flashes of colourful costumes, vivid theatre productions and unfamiliar musical acts always light up September and offer up some vitality to the heat-worn city.
The three main attractions at this years’ festival include beautifully costumed Kathakali theatre (pictured), Japanese percussion from Leonard Eto and the specially requested appearance of Abrar-Ul-Haq, the Pakistani pop, bhangra and folk singer.
Directly from Kerala, southern India, the Biblioteca Nacional plays host to the prestigious Margi theatre group, who devote themselves to promoting the ancient Indian art of Kathakali. See them perform the intense piece Duryodhanavadham (The Killing of the Demon Duryodhana), part of the epic tale Mahabharata. The piece, a mere sliver of the 100,000 line story in full, tells of the events leading up to the dramatic battle waged between the Pandavas, the five acknowledged sons of Pandu and the Kauravas, descendants of the legendary king Kuru. It begins when the five brothers are exiled to the jungle after they bet their wife Panchali in a gambling game. They lose the game to their enemies, the Kauravas, resulting in the loss of not only their wife but all their wealth and kingdom. 12 years go by and the brothers return to try and win back what they see as rightfully theirs. Unfortunately for them the Kauravas see differently. The tale ends with a mammoth battle where Bhima, the second of the Pandava brothers kills the eldest Kaurava brother, Duryodhana. Complicated? Definitely. Fascinating? Undoubtedly. Almost certainly unmissable. Even if you can’t follow the elaborate story you can always just take in the impressive and sumptuous costumes and make up.
The festivals musical offerings are a varied and interesting mix. One of the main draws will be New York-born, Japanese percussionist, Leonard Eto whose CV covers being a member of a Kodo, a Taiko drum group, stints in Stomp and Blue Man, to joining Siouxsie Sioux and Bon Jovi on tour in the Nineties. His original works have also been featured in films as diverse as The Thin Red Line and The Lion King. Credited for bringing percussion instruments off the sidelines and into the spotlight, Eto mainly performs with what he calls his “three indispensable instruments”, namely the Hirado O-Taiko (a flat-bodied large drum), Oke Taiko (a tub drum) and the Chappa cymbals (hand cymbals). He’ll be performing a new version of Blendrums that incorporates the sax and tap dancing at the Plaça dels Àngels at noon on September 26th.
Another group who draw attention to the value of percussion are Paris’Bimbap. The Paris-based group are to perform a Samul nori concert at the Biblioteca Nacional on September 20th. Samui nori is traditional percussion music from Korea with roots in nong-ak (which literally translates as farmers music). Featuring four instruments, the Kkwaenggwari (a small gong), Jing (a larger gong) Janggu (a hourglass shaped drum) and a barrel drum known as a Buck, the music was originally played in farming villages before the rice harvest to ensure a good crop.
Other highlights include Katy Evoghli, born in the Iranian Azerbaijan, Evoghli and her family were forced to move to Barcelona after the revolution, she has since made her home in Girona. Originally performing in Spanish Evoghli has since returned to her roots and now plays ancestral Persian music mixed with a more “new age” sound. (Ateneu Barcelonès, September 25th). Also on the programme are the Chinese Shan Ren Band who bring their folk-rock to Plaça de la Catedral on September 25th.
But it doesn’t stop there, as part of the closing day celebrations you can educate yourself in the art of calligraphy or in perfecting a nigiri sushi, there’s a fashion show featuring traditional dress and costume. You can also immerse yourself in the age-old traditions of Kamishibal, (a type of Japanese story-telling that involves pictures) or become familiar with the Indian deities. There will also be the chance to master games like the Korean Baduk, China’s Mahjong or the boardgame Carrom from Nepal. Casa Àsia are positively spoiling us this year, I think you’ll agree.
September 16th to 26th