With The Second Goodbye (重別), which opened at the National Experimental Theater last night, the Taiyuan Puppet Theater Company (台原偶戲團) takes another step in its journey toward making puppet theater an established part of Taiwan's contemporary art scene. Taiyuan, with its many original shows that combine Western opera, Italian marionettes, various regional Chinese opera styles, and contemporary experimental theater, pushes the boundaries in fascinating ways, and has done more than any other group to open up puppetry and take it outside the framework of folk performance. The company explores puppetry as a medium for serious expression in contemporary theater.
The Second Goodbye, a puppet play based on a combination of the Buddhist fable Mulien Saves his Mother (目蓮救母) and the story of Orpheus and Eurydice, explores how people respond to the loss of someone who is believed to be irreplaceable.
"We started with the idea of losing someone you love. We tried to get that feeling of loss, of being left behind, and wanting to get this love back ... ." Taiyuan's artistic director Robin Ruizendaal said. "The concept is a voyage through hell, which, also in this play, translates as an internal journey through your own internal hell. It all happens in the mind of the main character."
The play is the product of a discussion between Ruizendaal and Dutch theater director Jos van Kan, who two years ago spent six weeks in Ilan studying Taiwanese opera. "We met, we talked about things we were interested in ... . Love and death, they are never far away, the two main constants of life, and there we were," Ruizendaal said of the show's conception.
Further discussions brought in German performance artist and puppeteer Ulrike Quade and contemporary Dutch composer Marlijin Helder, who contributed their own unique elements. Helder created a score based on recordings of Chinese music and readings of the libretto, which is sung by a narrator who sometimes sits with the ensemble and sometimes on stage, and by Chiu Chiu-hui (邱秋惠), a gezai opera (歌仔戲) singer and former member of Taiwan's U-Theatre (優劇場).
What: The Second Goodbye
When: Today, tomorrow and Sunday 7:30pm; tomorrow and Sunday at 2:30pm
Where: National Experimental Theater, Taipei
Tickets: NT$450, available through NTCH ticketing
Details: There are no subtitles either in English or Chinese, but a brief introduction to the story is given in the program
Quade's body puppet - she wears the bottom-half of the puppet, and remains completely visible in her manipulation of the puppet's upper body - is not only fascinating to watch in terms of pure performance, but the "double vision" of the main character also plays off against ideas of the link between the spiritual and physical, of exploration and discovery of the self, and of the relationship between performer and the performance.
As with most experimental productions, the doubling up of roles among some of the cast is a matter of necessity, but The Second Goodbye manages to make a virtue of such logistical constraints, allowing this multitasking to generate ideas, both intended and unintended, that further enrich the work.
In many ways, The Second Goodbye makes an interesting counterpoint to The Firmiana Rain (梧桐雨), which also opened last night, just across the way so to speak, in the National Theater. Despite the significant difference in scale - Rain uses a full symphony orchestra, whereas The Second Goodbye has three musicians who also double as cast and crew - both shows are about seeing what can be produced by a cross-fertilization between vastly different performance traditions.