The National Theater Concert Hall’s (NTCH) Taiwan International Festival of Arts 2011 gets underway this weekend with a star-studded musical adaptation of La Dame aux Camelias (茶花女) in the main theater and an outdoor carnival that features an unusual combination of French theater and lion dancing.
The outdoor show at the Chiang Kai-shek Memorial Hall Plaza tomorrow night is the official kickoff to this year’s festival, which comprises 15 productions and runs through March 26. Three groups will perform at the family-centered carnival — Ten Drum Art Percussion Group (十鼓擊樂團), the Hung Sheng Lion Dance Theater (鴻勝醒獅團) and La Compagnie des Quidams.
The 10-year-old Ten Drums first gained worldwide attention when their album Island of Drums was nominated for a Grammy in 2008, while the Hung Sheng troupe has worked to redefine lion dancing by incorporating more theater and martial arts into its performances. The French troupe is famed for its very otherworldly look, with white costumes that bring to mind a cross between the Michelin Man and a lamp — large puffy bodies with heads that light up.
While the weather bureau forecasts that temperatures will drop today and tomorrow, the three troupes should generate enough energy between them to keep the crowds in the plaza warm.
The temperature should be a lot hotter in the National Theater, where burning passion is the theme of the weekend. The NTCH’s newest flagship production, La Dame aux Camelias, conceived and directed by Japanese director Tadashi Suzuki, had its world premiere last night.
For more than four decades, Suzuki has honed his unique, intense training methods, which teach actors to focus on their breathing and foot movements as a way of centering their energy and learning how to make their entire body speak, even when they are silent. His performers’ physical intensity has become a hallmark of his works and his training methods are now taught and used at institutions around the world, from the Juilliard School in New York to the Royal Shakespeare Company. As a director, he has gained fame from his reinterpretations of Western classics that break through cultural boundaries, including The Trojan Women, King Lear, Oedipus Rex and Cyrano de Bergerac (which his company brought to the National in 2009).
WHAT: Ten Drum Art Percussion Group (十鼓擊樂團), Hung Sheng Lion Dance Theater (鴻勝醒獅團) and La Compagnie des Quidams
WHEN: Tomorrow at 7pm
WHERE: The Chiang Kai-shek Memorial Hall Plaza
WHAT: La Dame aux Camelias (茶花女)
WHEN: Tonight and tomorrow at 7:30pm, Sunday at 2:30pm
WHERE: National Theater (國家戲劇院), 21-1 Zhongshan S Rd, Taipei City (台北市中山南路21-1號)
ADMISSION: NT$2,400 to NT$3,600, though there are still a few of the NT$1,800 seats left for tonight’s show. Available at the NTCH box office, online at www.artsticket.com.tw and at 7-Eleven ibon and Hi-Life Life-ET kiosks
ADDITIONAL PERFORMANCES: Feb. 19 at 7:30pm, Feb. 20 at 2:30pm at Kaohsiung Cultural Center’s Chih-teh Hall (高雄市立文化中心至德堂), 67 Wufu 1st Rd, Greater Kaohsiung (高雄市五福一路67號)
“I am always more interested in bringing together different cultures and people in a single production ... than having similar people do similar things,” Suzuki told a press conference in Taipei last month.
La Dame aux Camelias tells the story of Marguerite Gautier, a Paris courtesan, who gives up the love of her life, Armand Duval, so that he won’t be ruined by his association with her. Giuseppe Verdi used the story for his opera La Traviata, but Suzuki wanted a more contemporary look.
The musical is set in “contemporary Europe,” but the cast, led by Weng Ning-chien (翁寧謙) as Marguerite and Chou Ming-yu (周明宇) as Armand, and the songs are all modern Taiwanese love ballads that should be familiar to local audiences.
Weng and Chou spent a month last year training with Suzuki’s own troupe in Togo, Japan, as part of their rehearsal process.
As has been the case with previous NTCH flagship productions, the costumes — this time by Lin Ping-hao (林秉豪), who is also credited with the makeup — are stunning.
The show will be performed in Chinese, with English subtitles. There is a pre-show talk — in Mandarin —in the lobby that starts a half-hour before each performance, and after Sunday’s matinee there will be a “meet the artist” session in the theater.