|Jared McNeill, Sean O’Callaghan, Ery Nzaramba, Carole Karemera. Photo: Caroline Moreau|
Before it reached America’s shores, it was already a sensation. Making its world premiere in 1985 at the Avignon Theater Festival, Peter Brook’s The Mahabharata was performed in a massive, open limestone quarry filled with gleaming yellow sand. It shattered the limits of epic theater, sweeping audiences into an all-night staging of Hinduism’s most revered saga, with rivers of fire, hails of arrows, and an ensemble of actors and musicians from 18 countries. It has been said in various ways: “Everything that exists is in The Mahabharata... what isn’t in The Mahabharata doesn’t exist anywhere.”
Over the course of the production’s 10 years of development, Brook assembled some key collaborators, from musician Toshi Tsuchitori—who traveled to India for nearly two years to learn classical instrumentation—to the woman who would become his right hand for the next 30 years, Marie-Hélène Estienne. In the early 80s, Estienne went to India at Brook’s behest to simply observe and report back on the details of as many adaptations of the production’s source material as she could.