x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 19 January 2018

Strings that tie Iranian artistry and history

The Iranian theatre director Behrouz Gharibpour brings his world-renowned Hafez Puppet Opera to the UAE.

A scene from Hafez Puppet Opera. Courtesy Hafez Puppet Opera
A scene from Hafez Puppet Opera. Courtesy Hafez Puppet Opera

A puppet, says the Iranian theatre director Behrouz Gharibpour, is a far more compelling narrator of literature than an actor. Strings pulled by a trained puppeteer and backed by singers make the inanimate doll relay a message like no live actor tasked with recreating a classic character on stage can.

“If you have a skilful artist to make the puppet according to your imagination and have professional puppeteers to make them come alive, it can be very close to what you have in mind in terms of your characters,” says Gharibpour.

The director has taken his shows around the world. His first show in Dubai took place in 2008. A second show in 2010 was based on Rumi.

His latest production, Hafez Puppet Opera, opens at Ductac tonight. About 17 main singers and a choir of 40 will join 30 puppeteers from his Aran Puppet Theatre Company to stage episodes from the life of the Iranian poet Khajeh Shamseddin Mohammad Hafez Shirazi in the Hafez Against Hypocrisy-themed opera. The show is organised by Documentary Voices, a non-profit film education organisation.

“Hafez is part of our [Iranian] life,” says Gharibpour, who won the Hans Christian Andersen Award for scriptwriting in 2002 and Sierna d’Oro title for puppetry in 2008. “Every New Year’s Day, we read his poems and interpret it as a prediction for the coming year. His life is full of tragic events. That is why I chose him,” he says.

Hafez was born in 1348 and grew up in a turbulent environment that saw his hometown Shiraz change leader 16 times; the opera is based on historical events and poems Hafez wrote during the time of Amir Mobarez Al Din, who ruled Shiraz and is believed to have personally beheaded 800 people.

“Despite living under oppression, Hafez always talked about hope and brought glad tidings through his poems,” says Gharibpour, who studied theatre and dramatic arts at Tehran University and learnt glove puppetry in the Czech Republic to further his childhood fascination with the craft.

“At that time, theatre had lost its allure with the popularity of cinema and television,” he recalls.

Gharibpour began creating puppet operas 12 years ago when he was approached to direct a tale of Rostam and Sohrab, characters created by the Persian poet Ferdowsi. He says dramatising the stories of Hafez and Rumi, whose teachings are a spiritual guide for many today, requires a multilayered approach, sometimes best represented by puppets.

The fact that there were no valid documents on Hafez’s life made it more difficult, he says. “I had to explore his world through his poems and I had to reconcile my findings with historical facts about his era. This process took almost two years.”

Gharibpour says his show does not imitate western opera: “Our music has the capability to work as operatic music. In this performance I’ve created some pauses that will be as if they are opening their book to resort to divination.”

• Hafez Puppet Opera opens on November 18 and runs until November 20 at Ductac, Mall of the Emirates. Show starts at 8pm, tickets Dh500. Call 050 801 9849 or visit