With its top-notch selection of international and local productions, the Taiwan International Festival of the Arts (台灣國際藝術節) has become one of the most highly anticipated events of Taiwan’s arts calendar. Although still more than a month away, tickets for some shows have already sold out, so if you haven’t already, it is time to start looking through the program and making plans.
The festival opens with a local production: Shadows of Love by the Taiyuan Puppet Theatre Company (台原偶戲團). Taiyuan has spent the past decade pushing the boundaries of puppetry, and has produced a string of popular contemporary puppet shows. These shows have been notable for their diversity, for not only does Taiyuan strive to try new ways of using puppets on stage, it has also actively sought out international collaborations in the search for new material and ideas.
While routinely playing to packed houses in Taipei and with a proven track record on the international arts festival circuit, Taiyuan has remained part of the alternative scene in Taiwan. That it was chosen to open Taiwan’s most significant showcase of contemporary arts, an event that follows on from the company’s 10th anniversary last year, is a signal of recognition from the arts establishment.
“This is an affirmation of everything we have done,” Taiyuan director Wu Shan-shan (伍姍姍) told the Taipei Times in a phone interview earlier this week. “It is really great to be associated with this festival. We especially love that it is a Taiwanese festival, because we really have a bit of a love affair with the country, especially [artistic director] Robin [Ruizendaal].”
Taiyuan’s commitment to Taiwan and Taiwanese puppetry has not prevented it from forging links with artists working within other cultures and traditions.
Shadows of Love is an unprecedented three-way collaboration between Taiyuan, the Cengiz Ozek Shadow Theater of Istanbul and the Beijing Shadow Puppet Theater Company (北京皮影劇團). Although this is Taiyuan’s first extensive foray into shadow puppet theater, the use of shadows as an integral part of production design goes back many years, and owes a debt to the American theater artist and filmmaker Larry Reed. Wu said members of Taiyuan had studied with Reed, one of the few Westerners to be trained as a puppet master in the Indonesian wayang kulit tradition. His inspiration prompted the company to use lighting and multimedia to expand the genre’s creative horizons.
This new production has had extensive input from Turkish shadow puppet master Cengiz Ozek and from Lu Baogang (路寶剛), the fifth generation descendant of the founder of the Beijing Shadow Puppet Theater Company, which traces its roots back to 1842. Wu said that their participation was crucial in providing Shadows of Love with greater depth, and their immersion in their own respective traditions provided invaluable inspiration for the story.
Wu said that in addition to shadow puppets, this production also includes animation and film.
“It is another way of connecting past and present,” Wu said. “After all, shadow puppets, flickering images on a screen, were the first cinema.”
The use of animation, created by I Visual Design (愛視覺創意設計有限公司), a Taipei-based company, is a first for Taiyuan, and Wu was thrilled at the manner in which the animation echoes the effects created by the handheld puppets. “We want to keep the accent of the original [puppetry] art, and take it as an element in a contemporary theater production,” Wu said.