What’s this? More funky renditions of the ancient Book of Kings that Iranians know so well, and which has come to the fore globally at least since the 2000 year anniversary of its writing in 2010. This is a contemporary work for stage by Hossein Hadisi for voice, percussion and dance.
The piece celebrates the Persian minstrel art of Naqqáli (story telling) by reenacting the ancient myth of the evil Zahhák from the Shanemeh, or Persian Book of Kings. The music is performed by EXAUDI, a leading contemporary music ensemble from the UK, accompanying six dancers from the London Contemporary Dance School, and paintings by Iranian surrealist master Ali Akbar Sadeghi (b.1937).
SO who was Zahhák? Before Persian the language of the region was Avestan, and Zahhak (Aži Dahāka in more recent folklore) is the word for serpent or dragon. In Iranian folklore Aži Dahāka is described as a monster with three heads, cunning, strong and demonic. But in other respects Aži Dahāka has human qualities, and is never a mere animal. In the Shanemeh, and in Kurdish folklore the legend of Dehak is retold with the main character given the name of Zahāk . A weak character, he is used by the devil (Ahriman) and kills his own father and becomes king. As repayment Ahriman asks to kiss Zahak once on each shoulder and creates two brain-eating snakes that grow out of his shoulders. He then appears to Zahāk as a skilled physicians and counsels him that the snakes cannot be surgically removed and that he must appease them by feeding them human brains or they will eat his own. Thus begins Zahāk’s own living hell and reign of terror. This is a story clearly full of musical and performative possibilities!
Plot: Prince Zahhák makes a pact with Satan to kill his father. Soon after he sits on the throne, two snakes grow out of his shoulders, where Satan had kissed. Zahhák orders to behead two young men every day to feed their brains to his snakes. He soon loses popularity and power and is consumed by fear, rage and violence. Iranians are left with a choice to live in fear or not.
If your interest in Akbar Sadeghi is peaked as ours it, check his creepy and perfect 1975 animation below, Malek ol-Khorshid (King of the Sun, 1975), a magical animation again inspired by the tenth-century Persian epic The Shahnameh.
Director and Composer: Hossein Hadisi
Art Director, Costume and Stage Design: Pegah Salimi
Movement Director: Rick Nodine
Music Performed by Ensemble Exaudi
Ensemble Director: James Weeks
Juliet Fraser (soprano), Lucy Goddard (alto), Alastair Putt (tenor), Simon Whiteley (bass)
Dancers: Manuela Sarcone, Julie Schmidt Andreasen, Ellen Nous, Camila Gutierrez, Ffion Campbell-Davies, Mari-Halina Colbert
Monday 28/10/2013, 7:30pm
West Road Concert Hall, 11 West Road, Cambridge CB3 9DP