Cross-cultural Encounters In World Theatre: Bertolt Brecht, The “Alienation” Effect And Chinese Drama

The German playwright and drama theorist Bertolt Brecht (1898-1956) is particularly famous for his theory of alienation as a technique of acting and as an “effect” on the audience. Brecht called them, respectively, Verfremdung and Verfremdungseffekt (or V-effekt); however, in lieu of “alienation,” a more appropriate term to render these words into English would be “estrangement,” for alienation is exactly what Brecht intended to prevent through his newly devised performance apparatus, also known as epic theatre. By replacing traditional character impersonation with third-person narration and by employing a series of other devices aimed at defamiliarizing the dramatic events, Brecht wanted the audience to avoid...

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Chinese Vagina Monologues And Beyond

On March 20 2018, VaChina, a London-based Chinese feminist network, staged its first full drama show Our Vagina, Ourselves (阴道之道), the Chinese version of Vagina Monologues, in the lecture theatre of SOAS, London. Around 100 people filled the lecture theatre, with some enthusiasts having to sit on the floor to watch the Chinese version of Vagina Monologues in Chinese languages played by international performers (plural because the play’s conversations were also performed in dialects other than Mandarin Chinese). On March 5 2017 in New York, Our Vagina, Ourselves was performed by a group of New York-based Chinese feminist network that also initiated and published the petition...

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Reinventing Shakespeare In Chinese And Sinophone Theatres

Along with a number of Japanese and Western canonical poets and writers, Shakespeare and his works have played a significant role in the development of Chinese and Sinophone theatres in China, Hong Kong, and Taiwan. Hundreds of works have emerged in Mandarin and a wide range of Chinese dialects, performing styles, and genres. The encounters between ‘Shakespeare’ and genres and values represented by the icon of ‘China’ have enriched Chinese-language theatrical traditions as well as global Shakespearean performance history. In the following article, I shall focus on the challenges and changes to Chinese-language theatres. The transmission of Renaissance culture...

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Li Cunxin, The Ballet Star Who Could Never Really Leave The Stage

Chinese-Australian dancer Li Cunxin has been enjoying his long yet productive retirement for years, and he has chosen to trade his ballet shoes for traveling across the world to teach young talents and be a motivational speaker. After an 18 year absence, the ballet star who came into prominence during the height of Mao’s cultural revolution finally made his stage comeback. One fine morning in September, I had the opportunity to observe a ballet workshop. I was told that it was a masterclass that was going to be led by a prolific dancer. Yet, for some reason, it still...

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Reinterpreting The Tradition: A Contemporary Retelling Of Tang Xianzu’s “The Handan Dream” By The Guangzhou Dramatic Arts Centre

Conceived in 2016 in Guangzhou and previously performed in Beijing and St. Petersburg, the Guangzhou Dramatic Arts Centre’s production of The Handan Dream had its UK premiere at the Hackney Empire in London on January 25-27, 2018. Authored by the illustrious Ming-dynasty scholar and playwright Tang Xianzu—a contemporary of Shakespeare—The Handan Dream (Handan ji, 1601) is a classic Chinese-language play about an epiphanic dream, which upsets and brings a radically new perspective to the life of Lu Sheng, a young and frustrated scholar whose high aspirations for a successful career in the civil service have so far failed repeatedly. Surprisingly though,...

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Fredric Mao Blasts Away Convention in a New Cantonese Opera

This article is brought to you by the 46th edition of the Hong Kong Arts Festival. If all you know of Chinese opera are painted faces and clashing cymbals it might be time for a revisit. And now’s your chance. As part of this year’s Hong Kong Arts Festival celebrated director Fredric Mao is shaking things up by reshaping a classic Cantonese opera for modern audiences. Called Pavilion of a Hundred Flowers, it’s a tale of star-crossed lovers and warring households that has echoes of Romeo and Juliet – with all of the intrigue and the drama that entails. “I wanted to choose a work that was accessible...

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Colliding Traditions Keep Chinese Opera Alive and Well

Chinese opera is as expansive and diverse as China itself – and it continues to thrive in the face of more modern entertainment. This article is brought to you by the 46th edition of the Hong Kong Arts Festival. Chinese opera expert Tam Wing-pong is a straight shooter when it comes to appraising Hong Kong’s opera scene. He is as vocal in expressing its flaws as he is about showing enthusiasm for its latest developments. Tam is regularly called up to critique local performances in his capacity as member of the Programme Committee of the Hong Kong Arts Festival Society, and...

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How a Bunch of Americans Preserved a Dying Chinese Tradition

The art of shadow puppetry spent much of the 20th century in decline in China, but over in the US, it managed to live on. Traditional Chinese shadow puppetry is one of the country’s most spectacular folk arts. Behind a large screen, backlit so that it’s translucently illuminated, handmade donkey-hide puppets dance across the stage, acting out a wide range of stories from China’s formidable canon of classics. Since the beginning of the 20th century, the rise of movies and television, and later the attacks on traditional folk arts during the Cultural Revolution, have sent the popularity of shadow...

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Manuel Pelmus Examines The Performance Art Of Hong Kong Protest

When asked to pick one word that describes the city of Hong Kong, Romanian performance artist Manuel Pelmus opts for “spiraling.” Staying for a few weeks in the city to open his show at art institution Para Site, he notes the intensity of life here. By spiraling, he is referring to the sense of energy and vertigo one feels moving about the city, upwards and downwards, and how the layers of architecture feel disorientating and endless. He expresses these sentiments from a barren art space offering a birds-eye view of Victoria Harbour, adding that he plans to spend the...

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Tisa Ho, The Maestro Behind The Hong Kong Arts Festival

There is probably no place more appropriate than a backstage dressing room to interview Tisa Ho. The expressive executive director of the Hong Kong Arts Festival has worked in the arts for most of her adult life, and she still has a frothy enthusiasm for each new annual showcase. It seems there’s no place that she’s more at home than a theatre. This particular dressing room in City Hall has a special resonance. When Ho was a student at St. Paul’s Convent School in 1965, it was here that she won the part of Maria in The Sound Of Music in...

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Zuni Icosahedron Proves Hong Kong Can Be A Fertile Ground For Experimentation

Among Hong Kong’s artists, designers, playwrights and stage directors are polymaths who somehow manage to do all of these things at once–multidisciplinary mavens who, through their own grit, ambition, strategic acumen, and willingness to try new things have propelled the city’s cultural sphere to places the faint-hearted would not have had the courage to have taken it. Danny Yung is one of these people. He is the driving force behind Hong Kong’s experimental theatre company Zuni Icosahedron, and his widely acclaimed works run the gamut of installation art, performing art, multimedia, and theatre. He is a pioneering video artist, director,...

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Life Is Love In A Modern Take On An Ancient Chinese Folktale

The Legend Of White Snake isn’t old–it’s ancient. One of China’s Four Great Folktales (the other three being Lady Meng Jiang, Butterfly Lovers and The Cowherd And The Weaving Maid), the first fictionalization of it is thought to have originated in Ming times. It is, as epics have to be, a story of life and death, of love and loss, of truth, deceits, and transformation. Now regarded as a cultural treasure and a piece of intangible cultural heritage, The Legend Of White Snake has inspired operas, TV series, and movies, including the 2011 action fantasy The Sorcerer And The White Snake starring Jet Li. And now it’s the basis...

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Play Written By And For Cancer Patients Tours Shanghai, Beijing

Director of Don’t Be Afraid, Cancer Companions hopes drama project will give survivors confidence and community. China’s first play written, directed, and performed by cancer survivors has wrapped up its two-week tour of Shanghai and is set to premiere in Beijing next month. Don’t Be Afraid, Cancer Companions tells the story of a cancer treatment center that employs drama therapy to raise patients’ morale and give them the hope and confidence needed to face each day. The protagonist, Anhong, is a woman with lung cancer—as is the play’s director, Dai Rong. “Unexpectedly, I found out in February 2012 that I had lung...

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A 160-Year-Old Pirate’s Ballet Makes Its Asian Debut In Hong Kong

It isn’t often you find a Hong Kong resident unfamiliar with the pirate legend of Cheung Chau, but as a brief refresher, folklore says that treasure lays hidden in caves of the island. The loot is said to be the pillaged bounty of arch pirate Cheung Po Tsai (Zoeng1 Bou2 Zai2 張保仔), who was abducted by pirates as a child and went on to command a massive pirate fleet of 600 ships, terrorizing the Guangdong coast between 1807 and 1810. There may not remain any visible signs of Cheung’s long-abandoned loot today, but wander the sea-ravaged rocks where the caves are...

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The Swiss Are Shaking Up Hong Kong’s Dance Scene

This article is brought to you by the Hong Kong Arts Centre With its expansive alpine views, low population density and refreshing climate, life in Switzerland might not seem to have much in common with Hong Kong. But despite these two places being quite different in many ways, the experiences of their citizens do sometimes overlap. That’s according to Ian Leung, program manager for Hong Kong Arts Centre. He has been a driving force in a new collaboration bringing Swiss dance and theatre groups to local audiences over a weekend filled with diverse, dynamic offerings. These include multi-talented Daniel...

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“A River All Red” And “The Phoenix Returns Home” By The China National Peking Opera Company At London’s Sadler’s Wells

Founded in 1955 by the renowned Chinese theatre star Mei Lanfang, the China National Peking Opera Company (Guojia jingju yuan)–currently the top of its kind in the People’s Republic of China– has recently returned to the London stage to perform for the third consecutive time at Sadler’s Wells Theatre. This year’s playbill featured two productions–A River All Red and The Phoenix Returns Home. These are two diametrically opposed plays, which a Western audience might easily classify as a tragedy and a comedy, respectively. Jingju (Peking Opera) is a 200-year-old style of indigenous Chinese theatre and a true specimen of...

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Why All The World’s A Stage For A Classic Chinese Opera

In August, the stage play, The Dreamer was performed for enthusiastic audiences at the Pleasance Theatre during the Edinburgh Art Festival. The effort was the result of a cooperation between the Shanghai Dramatic Arts Center and the United Kingdom’s Gecko Physical Theatre Company. The play’s dialogue relies mostly on physical acting combined with lines spoken in Chinese, without any subtitles. The performance garnered rave reviews from reputable media outlets like British entertainment weekly The Stage, the British Theatre Guide, and FringeReview, an online reviews publication focusing on lesser-known performances. Rehearsals for The Dreamer began in 2016, a year that marked the 400th...

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Francis Poulenc’s “Midnight In Paris” (“La Voix Humaine”) In Beijing

Belgium’s new opera company Muziektheater Transparant is invited by the 2017 Beijing Music Festival to bring La Voix Humaine, a one-act opera composed by Francis Poulenc (1899-1963), in a concept of director Wouter Van Looy, soprano Naomi Beeldens and pianist Jeroen Malaise. Based on a written work by Jean Cocteau (1889-1963), La Voix Humaine centers on a woman, Elle, making a final attempt to get back her lover in a desperate telephone conversation. She creates a web of words – fearful, yearning, hysterical – as a safety net in her struggle for survival in the face of the imminent...

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What Is The State of New Plays in Contemporary China?

Meddling directors, confused actors, and pushy politicians are leaving the country’s budding playwrights exasperated. China’s theatre industry is experiencing a worrisome boom. Though more and more plays are being produced, and audience numbers are increasing every year, the market is flooded with foreign productions, commercial adaptations, and classic Chinese plays. Experimental theatres — known simply as “small theatres” in Mandarin — are in decline, despite their strong track record of producing original stories that reflect modern China. According to Daolue, a research center that provides data on the Chinese cultural industry, the number of new plays last year dropped to fewer than 200,...

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Chinese Opera Festival: Showcasing Troupes from Across China

Why We Recommend It A series of operas hailing from across China will showcase the diversity and rich traditions of the art form. Description Showcasing nine programs with 29 stage performances, this festival offers a valuable entry point into Chinese opera, covering ten opera genres. With troupes from Shandong, Shanghai, Beijing, Suzhou, and Sichuan featured – among other places, this is a chance to see some performances that have previously not traveled as far as Hong Kong. Two Cantonese opera programs are featured. These will present among other traditional shows – Enlightenment of the Goddess Mercy and Fairy Returns her...

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