Peter Brook returns to Petroupolis

The annual summer Petra Festival in Petroupolis, already under way, will herald the month of July with its headline performance: the return of director Peter Brook 20 years to the day since the Petroupolis theater’s inauguration with the acclaimed director’s «Mahabharata.» Brook will be presenting his latest production, «Tierno Bokar,» which features several members of the 1985 cast. «Tierno Bokar,» based on the novel «The Life and Teachings of Tierno Bokar: The Sage of Bandiagara» (Editions Presence Africaine, Paris, 1957), written by Mali’s Amadou Hampate Ba – a former student of Bokar – and adapted by Marie-Helene Estienne, was first performed in Paris last November. The three Athens shows (July 2, 3 and 4) are the last stop on an ongoing tour, though Brook has had to adapt the production for the open-air Petra Theater. «In his book ‘The Sage of Bandiagara,’ the great Peul writer Amadou Hampate Ba described the life and teachings of a humble and extraordinary man who was his master,» explains Brook in a press note. «His story draws us deep into an Africa that is shaken by colonialism and torn apart by internal strife. Starting with a tiny disagreement over the meaning of the number 11 as opposed to the number 12, merciless conflicts arise that lead to massacres, to martyrdom. These tragic events create a chain that eventually ties a small African village to the highest political decisions of the Second World War.» The sage Tierno Bokar (1875-1939) was a Sufi sage, a member of a distinguished clan and a spiritual leader in his village in Mali. His clan was embroiled in a religious debate with a rival clan, a debate that devolved into a conflict over power and leadership in the Tidjani Sufi Order. When Tierno eventually became a follower of the rival Hamallahs, he was cast out by family, relatives and clan, branded a traitor, and forbidden to teach or pray publicly. His enemies further ostracized him by collaborating with the colonial powers, portraying him as a fomenter of rebellion against French rule. Tierno died impoverished and isolated. «Tierno Bokar searched for difficulties,» writes Brook. «He needed them in order to discover if he possessed in himself the patience and endurance he taught to others. One day he said, ‘I pray God that at the moment I die I have more enemies to whom I’ve done nothing than friends.’ Terrible words, if one remembers the solitude of his last days. He also said: ‘The only struggle that really concerns me is the one that is aimed at our own weaknesses. This struggle, alas, has nothing to do with the war that so many of Adam’s sons wage in the name of a God they claim to love deeply, but whom they love badly – because they destroy a part of his creation.’ «The theme,» continues Brook, «vividly illuminates the question that concerns us all – the power of violence and the true nature of a tolerance that is more powerful still.» The performance lends the festival – already a significant institution on Greece’s cultural scene – a prestigious note and proves the success of the Municipality of Petroupolis’s decision three years ago to make the festival one of international scope. The performance is in French with Greek supertitles. Petra Theater, tel 210.501.2402/506.5443.

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