Fri, Nov 24, 2006 - Page 14 News List

Traditional theater takes on modern ideas

By Noah Buchan  /  STAFF REPORTER

Every year the Experimental Theater of the National Theater and Concert Hall holds two festivals, one international and the other local, showcasing the latest in experimental theater from both home and abroad. For this year's local "experiment," the National CKS Cultural Center (國立中正文化中心) has teamed up with Ilan's National Center for Traditional Arts (國立傳統藝術中心) to bring theater lovers some traditional theater with a contemporary flourish.

Called New Idea Theater (新點子戲展), the festival kicks off this weekend with Zhu Wen Elopes With the Ghost (朱文走鬼), a joint production between Taiwan's Chiang Tzu Tsui Theater (江之翠劇場), and Japan's Tomoe Shizune & Hakutobo (友惠靜嶺與白桃房). It tells the story of a young penniless scholar who falls in love with a ghost — the deceased daughter of an innkeeper. When the young man tells the innkeeper that he had a conversation with his daughter, a whole series of comedic events result. Based on an ancient tale, the story has typically been the repertoire of nanguan opera and questions love and identity.

The collaboration between the two troupes began when Tomoe Shizune & Hakutobo gave a workshop in Taiwan on butoh, a contemporary form of dance that has little to do with traditional Japanese dance styles. The most unconventional aspect of butoh is its movement and the preparation that dancers undergo — similar to meditation and martial arts — to prepare for performances.

The nanguan music is well-adapted to the action on stage because the rising and falling of the music parallels the character's own psychological disposition. So when the innkeeper and his wife see the ghost of their daughter, the music loses its subtlety and mimics the fear exhibited by the couple.

Theater Notes:

What: New Idea Theater(新點子戲展)Zhu Wen Elopes With the Ghost(朱文走鬼)Where: Experimental Theater (國家戲劇院實驗劇場), 21-1 Zhongshan S Rd, Taipei (台北市中山南路21-1號)When: Today and tomorrow at 7:30pm, tomorrow and Sunday at 2:30pmTickets: All Taipei performances are NT$400; tickets are available through NTCH ticketingOn the Net: Additional information on times and locations of all performances can be found at

Lamenting the state of traditional theater in Taiwan, especially nanguan, Chiang Tzu Tsui Theater's troupe director Zhou Yi-chang (周逸昌), hopes that by fusing traditional forms with the contemporary it will breathe new life into traditional theater.

"By combining the traditional nanguan with the more contemporary butoh, we have set out to create a new form of contemporary theater that may be appealing to a younger generation of theatergoers," he said.

The festival's second play is called Nanke Story (戀戀南柯) and is adapted from an allegorical play written by Tang Xianzu (湯顯祖) called A Dream Under the Southern Bough (南柯記). It tells the story of a discharged army officer who one day dreams that he enters an ant hole and ends up marrying the daughter of the king of ants. After the marriage, the officer is appointed to a high position in the king's administration and pursues a prestigious career until his wife dies. His downfall is then engineered by a political rival, which results in the officer's eventual banishment from the kingdom. After he is kicked out, he awakes from his dream.

Performed by 1/2Q Theater (1/2Q劇場), this updated version features overhead projector and karaoke to create an atmosphere of fun and desolation which parallels the satiric intentions of the original work.

Nanke Story is followed by White Snake (白水), which is based on the Chinese love story The White Snake (白蛇傳). Staged by Tainaner Ensemble (台南人劇團), the story follows the travails of a white snake who, curious about the lives of humans, transforms herself into a beautiful girl. She then falls in love with a young scholar who returns her amorousness, but all comes to naught when she drinks wine at a Dragon Boat Festival and returns to her original form. Her second transformation frightens the young scholar so much that he dies.

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