'Journey' brings classic Islamic text to the stage

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Photo courtesy the Univeristy of Minnesota
Bill Beeman
The University of Minnesota presents a world premiere adaptation of a classic work of 12th-century Islamic writing this weekend, which will be followed by a second run at the Children's Theatre Company.

Journey, based on the classic work Hayy ibn Yaqzan, was written by Ibn Tufayl. The new production was created by Iranian director Mohammad Ghaffari.

The piece's journey to Twin Cities stages started decades ago, when producer (and University of Minnesota anthropology professor) Bill Beeman collaborated with Ghaffari in pre-revolution Iran on work that featured the traditional ta'ziyeh style. After the revolution, Ghaffari moved to the United States and continued to present his pieces around the world.

"We stayed very good friends and in contact for a long time. There was a project he wanted to do--a ta'ziyeh version of Richard III--but it proved to be too expensive. He turned to another vehicle. He had been interested in this manuscript, which is a major classic for the medieval Islamic world," Beeman says.

The piece, Hayy ibn Yaqzan (Alive, Son of Awake), pulls together many aspects of Islamic science to tell a parable. "The story has a huge influence in the Islamic world. After it was translated into English, it became the inspiration for Robinson Crusoe and later classics, like the Jungle Book," Beeman says. "It had a great influence on the west and it is the embodiment of Islamic science in the 12th century."

Born "of slurry of mud," the character Hayy uses reason and science to understand the world. When he encounters civilization, he finds it lacking in the spiritual world and returns to his island. His scientific explorations showcase the scientific advances the Islamic world made in the Middle Ages--there's a dissection, for example--that far outstripped those in the western world, according to Beeman.

Ghaffari tells much of the story through dance, with Hayy performed by Eddie Bruno Oroyan, a 2010 McKnight dance fellow. Narration will be provided by Anika Reitman and original music will be performed by a trio of players, including composer Yukio Tsuji.

"I think anyone who sees this will be extremely affected by it," Beeman says. "In some ways it is a very simple story. We have a person who is a baby, grows up, and discovers civilization. It's very funny in some parts and I think it will be hugely entertaining for the general public and very moving in many places."

Journey opens Thursday. Performances are free.


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