Portrait of the Week #4: Yukio Ninagawa

Yukio Ninagawa 蜷川幸雄 (1935 -)

Born on the 15 October 1935 in Kawaguchi, Saitama, Japan, Ninagawa is a Japanese theater director particularly known for his Japanese-language productions of Shakespeare plays and Greek tragedies. Ninagawa began his artistic career in 1955 by joining a Japanese theater company as an aspiring actor. He left the group in 1967 to set up his own theater company and debuted as a director in 1969. The turning point in Ninagawa’s career came in 1974, when he was invited to participate in the large theater production of Romeo and Juliet, his first Shakespeare play.

Ninagawa’s innovation is based on the collusion of Western theatric convention and traditional Japanese theater styles such as Noh and kabuki. Ninagawa has gained worldwide recognition since his first overseas tour in 1983 and maintains a high reputation with regular overseas performances of his plays in Europe, the United States, and Canada. Although most famous for his Japanese productions of European classics, Ninagawa has also directed works based on contemporary writing from Japan and has worked directly with European theater companies. His plays are described by what is known as the ‘Ninagawa aesthetic,’ characterized by dynamic group performance and stage spaces of great visual richness. He has won many awards in Japan, and was also awarded an honorary doctorate from the University of Edinburgh in 1992. With his theatrical company Ninagawa Studio founded in 1984, he continues to release experimental productions with young actors and staff. Ninagawa has produced Shakespeare’s Hamlet alone six different times.

‘I want my productions of Shakespeare to help people appreciate the world of their own feelings. If they can achieve that kind of universality, that’s what makes me most happy.’ Yukio Ninagawa

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