Fri, Jul 12, 2002 - Page 18 News List

U Theater bangs its own drum

By Ian Bartholomew  /  STAFF REPORTER

U Theater works at its own special blend of religion and physical theater.

PHOTO: IAN BARTHOLOMEW, TAIPEI TIMES

U Theater (優劇場), now in its ninth year, performed a section of its newest show Meeting with Manjusri Bodhisattva for supporters and friends yesterday at its new home and rehearsal space in Mucha yesterday. The performance is scheduled to premiere at the National Theater on July 25.

Meeting is a drumming and dance performance, but builds on U Theater's former work by the introduction of some dramatic elements. While there is no story, the combination of Buddhist chant, drumming, dance and occasional dialogue build up a powerful atmosphere of haiku-like potential that provides enormous space for interpretation.

The group, which integrates its lifestyle with performance, has gathered a powerful following in Taiwan through its pilgrimages across the island, walking through little-traveled area as a way of raising their own spiritual states and connection with the island. Based in a rehearsal space in the mountains above Mucha, U Theater seeks to cultivate a spiritual state that is expressed through its art -- and in discussions held after the performance, the interaction of purely religious ritual with artistic expression was a major subject of discussion.

The new rehearsal space, which the group moved into this March, will allow U Theater to have greater contact with the public, said Lin Yi-ching (林益慶), the group's manager. "It is a means of passing on what we learn."

U Theater is planning to introduce drumming classes for both adults and children, along with tai chi and martial arts. The incorporation of spiritual teachings into theater is nothing unusual in Taiwan, with Cloud Gate drawing heavily on forms of tai chi in recent shows. With U Theater, the connections with religion are much more obvious. According to Liu Ching-min (劉靜敏), the groups founder, the almost mathematical precision of the dance accords with metaphysical patterns that are the source of some martial arts forms. "When the timing is perfect, then you enter a place of no time," she said, adding that the group probably has another three years to go before attaining that level of perfection.

The performances of Meeting precede a trip by U Theater performers to Tibet, where Liu hopes to find her own Shangri-la. "We have made two trips around Taiwan, now it is time to make the U Theater spirit more international," she said.

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