Song of the North, a visually stunning, cinematic-style shadow play (ages 7 and above) , had its world premiere February 10 to 13 at Musée du quai Branly in Paris with six sold out shows and will premier in the US March 5-12 at Brooklyn Academy of Music’s Harvey Theater with educational shows March 7, 8 and 11. Created, designed and directed by Hamid Rahmanian, a 2014 Guggenheim fellowship-winning filmmaker/visual artist, it is inspired by the tenth century Persian epic “Shahnameh” (The Book of Kings). It tells the story of Manijeh, a heroine from ancient Persia, who uses her strengths and talents to reconcile the warring kingdoms of Iran and Turan and to rescue her beloved Bijan from a perilous predicament of her own making. It will be the first puppet theater production to ever be presented on BAM’s Harvey stage.
The production is a live performance combining the manual art of shadow puppetry with projected animation. It employs a cast of 500 handmade puppets and an ensemble of nine actors and puppeteers. The graphics are inspired by the visual culture of the Persian lands, with influences from miniature paintings, stone carvings, and etchings. Choreography of the performers adapts Persianesque gesticulations, and a bright and bold soundtrack by composer Ramin Torkian and vocalist Azam Ali. The storytelling is modern, implementing cinematic tricks like cuts, zooms, tilts, pans, and tracking shots. The audience watches the entire show projected onto a 15′ x 30′ screen, giving them the feeling of being immersed in a live animation adventure.
The plot of “Song of the North” follows an Iranian knight, Bijan, who crosses the boarder to Turan – Iran’s sworn enemy – to win laurels in a tournament. There he falls madly in love with Turan’s Princess Manijeh, the loveliest girl in all the North, who is also a heroine with mystical powers. As the tournament comes to an end, Manijeh leans over her forlorn love and sings an enchanted melody, putting him to sleep. Bijan wakes up inside the Turanian castle with Manijeh by his side. They innocently enjoy their time together until her father, the king of Turan, learns of the foreign intruder’s presence. Irate, King Afrasayb has Bijan thrown into a well and strips his daughter of her titles and property.
Ultimately, Manijeh sings out a magical melody that puts the king’s army to sleep, allowing Bijan to be rescued by the great hero Rostam. All three escape safely to Iran, where Manijeh is commended for her strength and determination and the two lovers become the commander of immortal guard. The tale challenges conventional Eurocentric worldviews of art and storytelling and celebrates a female figure whose strength and perseverance has made her a cherished heroine of Iran.
“Song of the North” is created, designed and directed by Hamid Rahmanian, written by Hamid Rahmanian and Melissa Hibbard, and produced by Melissa Hibbard. Original Music is by Ramin Torkian, Vocalist: Azam Ali.