Fri, Oct 29, 2010 - Page 14 News List

PUPPETRY : Taiyuan tests the waters

By Ian Bartholomew  /  Staff Reporter

Taiyuan Puppet Theatre Company pushes the boundaries with its newest production’s approach to storytelling, which includes setting the action in a wading pool.

Photo courtesy of the Taiyuan Puppet Theatre Company

Taiyuan Puppet Theatre Company’s (台原偶戲團) Pilgrimage, which opens on Wednesday, is a very different puppetry experience, even by the group’s own unconventional standards.

Most of the action takes place in a wading pool on the floor of the Nadou Theater (納豆劇場) to the accompanied of a live accordion, guitar and erhu (二胡) combo, and the puppeteers wear black neoprene bodysuits.

Taking inspiration from two great ocean travelers, Pilgrimage does not so much tell a story as create an abstract work of images and sounds that explores the worlds of the Ming Dynasty general Koxinga (國姓爺) (also known as Zheng Chenggong (鄭成功)), who built a short-lived fiefdom based on Taiwan in the 17th century, and the Portuguese soldier-poet Luis Vaz de Camoes, who explored Asia in the 16th century and whose Chinese lover died in a shipwreck. And added to that highly eclectic mix of characters are a Brazilian leprechaun called Saci, the African deity Yemanja and the ocean goddess Matsu (媽祖).

Boundaries of time and place are transcended in Pilgrimage’s tale of love, birth, death, the transitory nature of existence and, above all, the ocean’s ability to bring people together and to tear them apart again.

Staging the production presented Taiyuan Puppet Theatre Company with many technical problems, not least because the puppeteers must spend much of the performance partly submerged.

During a rehearsal earlier this week, the puppeteers huddled next to a fan heater to regain some body warmth after more than an hour splashing about, and occasionally floundering, in the pool.

“The theater represents reality, and as these stories take place on the ocean, the most direct way to represent them is with water,” director Wu Shan-shan (伍姍姍) said during a rehearsal break. “I have taken the simplest and the most difficult route. It is also the most direct route.”

PERFORMANCE NOTES

What: Pilgrimage (朝聖之行) by Taiyuan Puppet Theatre Company

(台原偶戲團)

When: Daily at 8pm from Wednesday until Nov. 7

Where: Nadou Theater (納豆劇場), 79 Xining N Rd, Taipei City (台北市西寧北路79號)

Tickets: NT$500, available

through NTCH ticketing or online at www.artsticket.com.tw. As the Nadou theater is small, the number of tickets available is strictly limited


But the water is much more than a production gimmick. In addition to the not-so-metaphorical reference to the ocean, through which all the characters and locations are linked, the water also alters the small theater’s visual and audio dynamics.

Taiyuan’s Pilgrimage uses images and music rather than dialogue or narration to tell its story.

“The stories of puppet theater where generally told through words,” Wu said, adding that Taiyuan, in its experimental productions at least, aimed “to show rather than to tell.”

This approach has given birth to innovative theatrical devices that increase the puppets’ expressiveness.

In Pilgrimage, not only do the puppets interact with human actors, the puppeteers themselves take part in the action. Their hands often serve as the puppet’s hands, providing the puppets with a whole new expressive dimension.

It is techniques like this, and the need for audience members to put aside representational expectations, that make new Taiyuan shows so exciting.

It is also worth pointing out that while Pilgrimage is staged by a puppet theater company and makes extensive use of puppets, the cast includes two highly accomplished contemporary dancers who play an integral part in generating the production’s on-stage dynamism.

While there is some dialogue in the show, the words form part of a soundscape created by Huang Si-nung (黃思農), the founder of the experimental theater group Against Again Troupe (再拒劇團), who has created a musical fabric woven from European folk melodies, Chinese operatic tunes, electronic sound manipulation and poetry read in Chinese

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