Starting December 29, the Cameri Theater presents Euripides’s timeless masterpiece The Trojan Women, co-produced with the Metropolitan Theater of Tokyo and staged by prominent Japanese theater and film director Yukio Ninagawa.
The Trojan Women is Euripides’s third tragedy in a cycle. The ancient Greek play follows the fate of the women of Troy after their city has been sacked, their husbands killed and, as their remaining families are about to be taken away as slaves, they are to be married to the enemy.
Taking part in this unique co-production are Japanese and Israeli (Jewish and Arab) actors. The Japanese premiere took place about a month ago and was a great success. Earlier this year Ninagawa, together with a team of his colleagues, came to Israel for a brief visit, during which he held auditions in Tel Aviv.
Ninagawa, who is famous for his productions of Japanese drama and – mostly – for his renditions of Shakespearean and Greek tragedies, started his theater career as an actor.
“I became an actor because I failed the entry exams for the university and I did not have anything much to do,” he admits with a smile.
In the mid-1960s, New Wave Theater came into being in Japan, and Ninagawa felt he wasn’t suited to be an actor anymore. “There was a small underground theater movement in Japan. For me it was like revelation, and I decided to become a director,” he says.
Ninagawa recalls that before that, everybody in Japan tried to copy European theater. “But in the 1960s, totally unknown young people came to theater, and they wanted to change things. This was the time of student revolutions, and you could see the riot police in the streets and on stage. That was a kind of social theater,” he says Ninagawa created and disbanded several acting troupes before becoming a theater director who works in Japan and Europe. His name is mostly associated with European repertoire performed in Japanese. His productions are both famous and controversial. Some people accept his work and some oppose it – but no one is left indifferent.
In his work, Ninagawa has moved away from copying the European language and has introduced elements of the national Kabuki theater, which he also uses in his European plays. He says that for the Japanese culture, it is characteristic to preserve its own tradition and to absorb everything from Europe: “All this coexists within Japanese culture,” he says.
Why did Ninagawa want to participate in this project? “We have worked in many theaters in Europe but not in the Middle East.
This is a new experience for us. We are learning about this way of making theater and also learning more about our own culture and to respect each other more,” he says.
Asked about his impressions of Israeli actors, both Jews and Arabs, the director responds, “They are very expressive and very fierce, far more than in Japan. We in Japan do not have the kind of conflict you have here. And also, by nature, we don’t like to break order. If it goes well, we want to keep it. That is the Japanese mentality.”
What about the Israeli mentality? “It is a very fighting spirit, very fierce.
For me, it will be hard work to stage the play with Israeli actors,” he says.
Why did he choose this particular play? “The play is about the conqueror and the conquered. But also here – conqueror and the conquered go together on stage.”
In regard to the difference between Jewish and Arab actors, Ninagawa says, “The Jews are calmer. That said, they both are far fiercer than us.”
As for how he chose the actors during the auditions, he says, “I do not understand the language, so for me the only criterion was their ability to express feelings. That is all.”
So how will he put together fierce Israeli actors with their introverted and conservative Japanese counterparts? “That will be quite a task, and an interesting one!” laughs the director.