"It is precisely the combination of the musical and rhythmic elements in our traditional nomadic epics combined with text, design and choreography that makes our performances contemporary and appealing to today's public," explains Nurlan Asanbekov, director of theatre group Sakhna from Bishkek in Kirghizistan. Sakhna was one of the participants in the Central Asian Theatre Caravan Meeting that was held from 7 - 10 June 2006 in Bishkek.
Nurlan Asenbekov is one of the few independent theatre producers in Kirghizistan. The country has been plagued by an unstable political situation since the Tulip Revolution in March 2005; at the same time, it has a freer cultural climate than many other Central Asian countries.
Since it gained independence from the Soviet Union in 1991, the residents of Kirghizistan, which is home to more than sixty different populations, have focused quite strongly on their own cultural legacy, which includes an extensive oral tradition. In addition to the large-scale Manas epic, which every child learns at his mother's knee, there are many smaller stories. Sakhna introduces these less familiar epics in a contemporary style and braves the elements to present them in cultural centres, sheds and community centres in the provinces of the mountainous Kirghizistan, with its extremely cold winters.
Sakhna hopes to establish new contacts by taking part in the Central Asian Theatre Caravan Meeting, which will lead to collaboration with groups from other Central Asian countries. There were about forty participants from Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan, Tadzhikistan and Kirghizistan itself, an Egyptian and a few Europeans. The goal of the meeting was to establish a Central Asian 'performance' network. Previous meetings have been held in Tadzhikistan and Uzbekistan.
Setting up international collaborative ventures is not without its problems. For example, it is difficult for theatre producers from Turkmenistan to leave their country. The government in Uzbekistan makes it difficult to invite people from other countries. And yet the need to collaborate more is considerable. During the meeting in Bishkek, Sakhna agreed to set up a more organised network project with the theatre groups Art-i-Shock from Kazakhstan and Ilkhom Theater from Uzbekistan.
The meeting in Bishkek was organised by CANAC (the Central Asian Network for Arts and Culture) in collaboration with IETM (Informal European Theatre Meetings) and was supported by Hivos and the Open Society Institute, among others. These two funds recently entered into a partnership agreement to combine their resources to support the cultural sector in Central Asia.