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Avignon Festival 2017

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Japanese-Greek tragedy kicks off Avignon 2017

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The play "Antigone" by Sophocle directed by Japanese director Satoshi Miyagi Anne-Christine Poujoulat/AFP

The Avignon Festival got off to a good start on Thursday night. Satoshi Miyagi, who heads the reputed Shizuoka Performing Arts Centre in Japan stunned audiences with his latest feast for the eyes and mind, Antigone.


The well-known school book Greek tragedy by Sophocles hinges on a young girl disobeying the king, her uncle Creon, by giving her brother the same funeral rites he has been denied and which have honoured their sibling after a fratricidal combat. The punishment the king has to mete out to his niece, Antigone, is death. His dilemma is manifold, as she is his own son’s fiancée.

Japanese director Satoshi Miyagi set the play in water, covering the stage floor in the imposing Pope’s Palace. As the audience filed in, eight actors feet protected by white rubber boots move slowly and meditatively on an individual path, their white semi-transparent robes, trailing slightly.

They carried candles in a glass and produce a high-pitched sound on its rim.

“Water in Greek or Japanese culture, separates the world of the living from the dead, “ says Miyagi.

Once the audience were seated, the tone changes, the cast introduced their characters and laughed boisterously at their own difficulty in pronouncing French as they gave a resumé of ancient Greek story.

Miyagi’s mastery of stagecraft sets him apart and his actors rise to the occasion he creates. Antigone is simply and effectively constructed. One set of actors, all wearing white, narrated the plot and the gestures of the other actors in Bunraku style. Their silhouettes were projected and distorted on the mediaeval walls of the old stone palace, in a dramatic shadow play.

Miyagi's actors used three stages, big stone decors in the middle and at each side of the stage. He played with the space of the huge courtyard in front of a full house of several hundred.

“I knew when I saw the courtyard a year ago that the play would be Antigone,” he says.

After his adaptation also in Japanese, of the Indian epic The Mahabharata for the Festival 2014 at the Boulbon Quarry outside of Avignon, Miyagi has proved that he can handle even the most awe-inspiring natural or man-made settings and bring them to serve the needs of theatre.