The Rise and Fall of Timur the Lame

created by: Theodora Skipitares
composer: David First
dancer: Sanjeeva Suvarna
singer: Lisa Karrer
lighting: Pat Dignan
video: Kay Hines
Narrators: Michael Moran and George Drance
Dramaturg: Andrea Balis

Performance Schedule:
March 15th - 31st, 2002
Thursday - Sunday 7:30pm
No Show Thursday March 21st
The Annex Theatre

"The Rise and Fall of Timur the Lame" is a new work with shadow puppetry and dance by Theodora Skipitares. The core of the show is a rendering of Christopher Marlowe's "Tamburlaine" in multi colored large scale shadow puppets, but its apex is a solo dance on Bhagavad Gita by Sanjeeva Poojary, one of south India's most renowned traditional dancers. Composer David First will perform his original score live in the production.

The play is inspired by Skipitares' experiences in 1999-2000 as a Fullbright Fellow in India where she collaborated on a theater production in Bangalore which utilized Yakshagana dance and South Indian puppetry.

The piece takes place in several locations within La MaMa's Annex Theater, but centralizes in a gigantic five-sided, sixty foot shadow screen that surrounds the audience in a kind of "Sensurround in shadow puppets," where this vigorous, super-active, physical story will be presented in an experience of enveloping light, shadow and sound.

It is the first La MaMa production for South Indian dancer Sanjeeva Suvarna, who is performing a solo dance on Bhagavad Gita, the well-known meditation on war and action found in the Hindu epic Mahabarata. Poojary will dance Krishna, accompanied by a score by instrumentalist David First and singer Lisa Kerrer, both of whom will perform live. Poojary is a master of Yakshagana (Dance of the DemiGods), a South Indian dance theatre form which incorporates unique footwork, acrobatics and jumping movements with intensely colorful makeup and costume. Yakshagana plays are often likened to the Kathakali plays of Kerala and both are based on stories from the Ramayana and the Mahabarata. Poojary is in NY for a month-long residency at La MaMa and is teaching an intensive four-day workshop in Yakshagana there March 16 to 24. (Interested students can get further information at

Christopher Marlowe's blank verse tragedy, "Tamburlaine the Great" (1587), depicts Tamburlaine as a bloodthirsty, inhuman villain, in contrast to Rowe's play of 1702, where the Turkmen Mongol conqueror was pictured as a calm, philosophic prince. Poe also wrote on the emperor in a poem called "Tamerlaine."

Timur began his career as a bandit-warrior with only a few companions, who subsisted on stealing sheep from other tribes. In one sheep-stealing raid Timur was wounded in the leg and shoulder. Afterward he could not bend his right knee or lift his right arm, and so he became known as "the Lame." He established an empire extending from India to the Mediterranean Sea. The names Tamburlane and Tamerlane are European corruptions of Timur Lang ("Timur the Lame"). According to the Encarta Encyclopedia, he was born April 10, 1336, at Kesh in Transoxiana (present-day Uzbekistan). Between 1364 and 1370 he won control of Transoxiana, and in the latter year declared the restoration of the empire of Genghis Khan, whom he falsely claimed as his ancestor. By 1394 he had conquered Iran, Mesopotamia, Armenia, and Georgia. In 1398 Tamerlane invaded India, where he captured Delhi and massacred 100,000 inhabitants. In 1401 he took Syria from the Mamelukes, and the following year defeated the Ottoman sultan Bayazid I. Tamerlane died on February 18, 1405, near Shymkent (in present-day Kazakstan) while leading an expedition against China, and was buried in Samarqand, his capital city. His mausoleum, the Gur-e Amir, is one of Samarqand's great architectural monuments.

Although he was notorious for his cruelty in war and for the many atrocities committed by his armies, Tamerlane was also a lover of scholarship and the arts. His dynasty, the Timurids, which ruled Transoxiana and Iran until the early 16th century, was noted for its patronage of Turkish and Persian literature. One of his descendants, Babur, founded the Mughal dynasty of India in 1526.

Theodora Skipitares became regarded as the most provocative miniaturist now working in New York following such formative works in the 1980's as "Micropolis," "Defenders of the Code" and "The Radiant City." She made her La MaMa debut with "Underground" (1992), a work which explored a wide variety of subterranean cultures, from mineshafts to fallout shelters. David Richards (New York Times) wrote, "She wants you to look hard and close into dark nooks and spooky crannies. You'll discover all sorts of mini-revelations and Lilliputian enchantments if you do." She went on to mythologize the history of medicine with "Under the Knife I, II and III," all at La MaMa, between 1994 and 1996. This developing work was her first use of La MaMa's large Annex Theater as an enveloping, multi-level installation as, in a series of 24 miniature environments, she fabricated a spectacular interactive marketplace of medical ideas through the ages.

Trained as a sculptor and designer, Skipitares avoids the label puppeteer as too limiting in view of her multi-media approach. Alisa Solomon (Village Voice), reviewing her "The Age of Invention" (1985), claimed Skipitares fulfilled Gordon Craig's call for Uebermarionette to replace actors because only puppets could convey the "noble artificiality" he considered necessary for the stage. That work had life-size puppets of Ben Franklin, Edison, and Michael O'Connor--a 20th century salesman who passed as a surgeon and performed operations in five states. Skipitares' work has been cited for its particular and rigorous historicity. She says that when she does research, she tries to find the false side of an event or character, and upon finding it, uses it as a peephole into what might be really true. This results in a chilling sort of theater, where real first-person narrative becomes heightened through puppet theater, becoming as brazen and atavistic as myths which are delivered side-by-side.

When "Micropolis" (1982), her first major work, was revived in 1992, the Village Voice (Pam Renner) call it "the work of a possessed and clairvoyant miniaturist." The work contained miniature scenes from urban life: some real, like an unnoticed murder, some fanciful, like a dinosaur waking up on a superhighway. Her "Defenders of the Code" (1987) was picked in the New York Times' "ten best plays" list. It dramatized Plato's "Republic," Darwin's "Origins of the Species," and James Watson's "Double Helix" with Bunraku-style puppets. "The Radiant City" (1991) presented the legacy of master-builder Robert Moses. Her "The Harlot's Progress" (1998) was a chamber opera, with music and lyrics by Barry Greenhut, based on the engravings of William Hogarth. The New York Times (Lawrence Van Gelder) wrote, "Like its inspiration, 'A Harlot's Progress' is striking, timely and admirable art." Her "Body of Crime" (La MaMa, 1996) and "Body of Crime II" (La MaMa, 1999) enacted scenes of women in prison from medieval times to the present.

Skipitares has been repeatedly nominated for the American Theater Wing's special design award and won the 1999 prize for "A Harlot's Progress." She has received Guggenheim, Rockefeller and NEA grants. Her last production was "Optic Fever," a play on Renaissance artist-scientists, devoted to the history and philosophy of how we see. It played to packed houses in its initial run at La MaMa in January, 2001 and was reprised in June, 2001.

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