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Ratan Thiyam and his Chorus Repertory Theatre from Manipur made their U.S. debut in 2000, dazzling American audiences with their play Uttar-Priyadarshi (The Final Beatitude). New York Times critic Margo Jefferson hailed Thiyam as a “genius” and the “experience of seeing Uttar-Priyadarshi transcendent.” The internationally acclaimed company returns this fall with their new production Nine Hills One Valley (Chinglon Mapan Tampak Ama). Performed by a cast of 26, Nine Hills One Valley is a haunting and poetic theatrical allegory that confronts the turmoil that consumes Manipur today. In the face of violence, venality, instability, and poverty, Thiyam asks, how do we sustain ourselves when our cultural traditions are cut off, lost? The work’s title describes the natural beauty of Manipur and its geography. Bordered by Bhutan, Bangladesh, and Burma, this culturally rich and politically unsettled region is a hill state in Northeast India. Nine Hills One Valley is “a poem by birth, a collage of many ideas without a conventional plot,” says Thiyam. “It depicts what I see and what I feel about various systems which ultimately lead a place and its people to many difficult problems. It is a document of a restless society and political turmoil where the sufferers are only the common people.” Meticulously crafted, Nine Hills One Valley is rich in visual imagery that reference traditional crafts and performing and martial arts. Importantly, as much as it directly reflects Manipur, the production transcends the immediacy of place, language, and aesthetics to speak across cultural and geographic borders. For Thiyam, this perspective is not a matter of choice; it is the reality of contemporary life. “I’ll tell you, this is the condition of modern man: that you live somewhere, but you are compelled to think about the world—because you cannot be separated, or stand aloof from the problems of the world. The sufferings I am facing in this small place are not different from what is happening elsewhere. Suppose oil is burning in Kuwait or in Iraq; that does not mean that I will not suffer because I am in another corner of the globe. Sitting in Manipur, I think about the Gaza Strip, I think about Israel or Palestine, or America, about Afghanistan, about Pakistan and its relationship with India, Kashmir, bomb blasts in Bali. Globalization impinges on your own identity as a modern man and also on your native identity.” The son of Manipuri dance masters, for a time Thiyam studied painting before turning to writing. He has written short stories, novels, poetry and plays. Writing led him to theatre. In 1971 he enrolled at the National School of Drama in Delhi and gained a reputation as a powerful director and actor. In 1976 he returned to Manipur and founded the Chorus Repertory Theatre. Except for a two-year stint as Director of India’s National School of Drama from 1986-88, Manipur has remained both the physical and aesthetic foundation for his work. Awarded one of the India’s highest civilian honors, the Padma Shri in 1989, Thiyam returned it in 2001 in protest of the central government’s policies in Manipur. In his letter to the President of India he wrote, “Life is not normal in the valley of Manipur. No tangible effort or urgency is visible on the part of the Centre. It is decaying by the day and there is no helping hand coming forward. It is not disrespect for the civilian honour of Padma Shri conferred on me, it is the compulsion of my bleeding heart. Although it is a very painful decision, I am, as a protest, relinquishing this honour.” Nine Hills One Valley promises to be a testament to Thiyam’s worthiness of that high honor, and compulsion to decline it. Nov 8: Pre-performance lecture by Sudipto Chatterjee, assistant professor, Department of Dance, Theater & Performance Studies, UC Berkeley (7 p.m., Studio Theatre, Mondavi Center). Jackson Hall, Mondavi Center, UC Davis. 8 p.m. $26, $31, $36 general; $8, $10, $12 student; $8, $10, $12 child. (866) 754-2787.www.mondaviarts.org Nov 10-11: Presented by Cal Performances. Zellerbach Hall Dance and Theater, UC Berkeley. 8 p.m. $24, $36, $48. (510) 642-9988. www.calperfs.berkeley.edu