Wed, Apr 14, 2010 - Page 13 News List

[CULTURE] Funny enough for words

The National Palace Museum is taking a risk with the latest installment of its New Melody series of performances, which showcases the Chinese art of cross-talk

By Ian Bartholomew  /  STAFF REPORTER

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After a three-month hiatus, the National Palace Museum’s New Melody (故宮新韻) series of performances is back, this time with an innovative offering from the Comedians Workshop (相聲瓦舍) showcasing the Chinese art of cross-talk (相聲), a type of stand-up comedy. Titled Another Village: Comedians Workshop’s Treasure Trove (又一村:瓦舍多寶閣), the program is divided into two sections, the first an adaptation of the workshop’s established repertoire, the second an original work created for New Melody.

Another Village follows performances of a condensed version of The Palace of Eternal Youth (長生殿) by Lanting Kun Opera Company (蘭庭崑劇團) and episodes from Journey to the West (西遊記) by Li-Yuan Peking Opera Theatre (台北新劇團), both of which received positive responses from audiences, said Josephine Chu (朱惠良), director of the museum’s Department of Education Programs (教育展資處).

The Comedians Workshop’s program departs from the series’ theatrical format, and while the new approach has many advantages, including versatility, not to mention reduced costs, the lack of a theatrical spectacle is a risk.

With its emphasis on verbal dexterity, jokes and improvisations on topical events, the art of cross-talk developed out of storytelling traditions, and deserves to stand alongside opera as one of Chinese culture’s great achievements. It does, nevertheless, provide very little to look at, lacking the elaborate costumes or intricate movements of opera.

This paper praised the museum for providing subtitles of a reasonable quality that gave a level of accessibility not normally available to foreign audiences of Chinese opera for the previous two productions in the series. In Another Village, as with all cross-talk performances, the complexity and speed of the dialogue reduces the effectiveness of subtitles. An introduction to the performance in English and Japanese is provided in a brochure.

Comedians Workshop founder Feng Yi-gang (馮翊綱) said the National Palace Museum performances are a first for the 20-year-old troupe. The show was written specifically for the museum with broadening cross-talk’s appeal in mind. The second segment, which relates the Japanese story of Rashomon, includes some fancy dress elements.

One of New Melody’s provisos is that all the performances should relate in some way to items held in the museum’s collection. In the case of The Palace of Eternal Youth it was a painting; for Journey to the West an illustrated book. For an Aboriginal performance scheduled for July, it will be the collection of Qing Dynasty documents relating to Aboriginal peoples in Taiwan.

With cross-talk, the reference to the collection is more direct, but as of the first show, shoehorning these references into the comic dialogue was often labored.

Feng said that the troupe was still honing its production to meet the unique needs of the New Melody series. The versatility of the format will allow the show to reference any variety of items that the museum has on display, which makes realizing the educational goal of the series a little easier.

“These shows are part of a much larger educational program,” Chu said. “People can see the shows, and then perhaps look at the actual items related to the show, or participate in the many related activities that we host, whether it be serious lectures or family DIY workshops.”

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