Art for a new world

Indian director Chongtham Jayanta Meetei has adapted Japanese playwright Hideki Noda’s ‘Red Demon’ to push the artist’s role as a bridge between cultures

By Ian Bartholomew  /  Staff reporter

Fri, Aug 16, 2013 - Page 12

The Taipei Arts Festival (台北藝術節) has for the last two years, under the directorship of Keng Yi-wei (耿一偉), placed great emphasis on international collaboration. Of all the groups participating, none exemplifies the idea of such collaboration more than Ex-Asia Theater (EX-亞洲劇團), which will be presenting a new show, Red Demon (赤鬼), at Taipei’s Wellspring Theater (水源劇場) this weekend.

Ex-Asia Theater is the creation of Indian director Chongtham Jayanta Meetei and his Taiwanese partner Lin Pei-ann (林浿安). In the current production, the group will collaborate with Japanese performer Miyuki Kamimura. The play, based on a work by acclaimed Japanese playwright Hideki Noda, is about alienation and demonization of “otherness,” a theme that is close to Meetei’s heart.

The play is set in a small village. One day a stranger comes to the village. He speaks a strange language and comes from another culture. He is branded a demon by all except one woman from the village who tries to communicate with him. She is branded a traitor by her fellow villagers. Various revelations follow.

In a telephone interview with the Taipei Times, Meetei said that engaging with cultural diversity was central to his role as an artist.

“In this play there are three Taiwanese [including one of Aboriginal background] and one Japanese. So the Japanese plays the Red Demon, the outsider … This play is about how we confront another culture, how we create a fear in our own mind,” Meetai said.

Using a cast from different cultural backgrounds, and in dealing with the subject of xenophobia, Meetai is exploring cultural interaction both in the way the production is presented, as well as in the story it tells. His own experience of having to overcome barriers of culture and language significantly influenced his methods.

“In India, my hometown is in a very small state in India, and only a small population of people speak my language, so if you want to travel to any other part of India to perform, you must overcome this language barrier. So I became very influenced by physical expression theater that is not so dependent on language,” he said.

“We create a body language for the show. We don’t just use the dialogue, but we explore the movement with the dialogue together, working in the same way a choreographer of contemporary dance develops their movements. We try to bring in various traditional art forms, such as traditional Thai dance or Beijing opera for the development of the movement.”

Bridging different cultures is key to how Meetai works, aiming as he does to create forms of expression that can transcend cultural boundaries.

“In modern days, a culture cannot only be meant for one society — to say that this is my culture and that is your culture [is misguided] because communication has become very fluent. [It] is the job of artists to interact with different people and understand others, and as a result develop a new culture for a new world,” he said.

Meetai said that working in a multicultural production had been very important for developing his career as a director. “If I work only within my own culture, I can create something for a specific audience,” Meetai said. “But with actors from different cultures, they have different ways of expressing themselves. They start to open up your vision about how we all communicate.”