The 2012 International Theater Festival at the National and Experimental theaters has a terrific lineup of thought-provoking shows from a combination of foreign and local acting troupes. Unfortunately for procrastinators, tickets to two of the most eagerly awaited imports are already sold out.
The festival opens this weekend with a double-header: Gardenia (梔子花) in the National Theater and Kafka’s Monkey (卡夫卡的猴子) upstairs in the Experimental Theater. Both are boundary breakers in their own ways, but they couldn’t be more different in scope and subject matter.
Gardenia marks the return to Taipei of the Belgian troupe Les Ballets C de la B, which impressed audiences at last year’s International Festival of Arts at the National Theater with their production of Out of Context — for Pina, a tribute to the late, great German modern dance choreographer Pina Bausch. It was in turns disturbing and enthralling.
For the equally complex Gardenia, company founder Alain Platel teamed up with writer and theater director Frank Van Laecke to develop a story that deals with gender identity and growing older. Inspired by Sonia Herman Dolz’s documentary Yo Soy Asi about the closing night of a transvestite cabaret in Barcelona, Spain, the show — more theater than dance — intermixes song, dance, theater and cabaret and is performed by nine men, all middle-aged, and all either transgender, transvestite or homosexual in real life.
The nine begin the show in business suits. But soon they change into bright colorful dresses and wigs, their physical appearances changing with the costuming, and shifting again when they return to conventional street clothes. Their stories are about the struggles to navigate between the masculine and the feminine, reality and artifice, loneliness and love.
Kafka’s Monkey, produced by the Young Vic Theatre Company, and featuring the British stage and film actress Kathryn Hunter, is also about a transformation — but this time from ape to theatrical performer. It is based on Franz Kafka’s short story A Report to an Academy and has won rave reviews in London and elsewhere. However, it was the first of the festival shows to sell out.
Tickets went almost as quickly for the third show in the lineup, Cie Dos a Deux’s Fragments of Desire (慾望片段), which will also be performed in the Experimental Theater. The story, about a tortuous menage a trois between the main character, his handicapped father and his female tutor, is performed without dialogue.
There are still lots of tickets left for the final two festival productions in the Experimental Theater: The Legend of Peach Blossom Fan (亂紅), by the experimental kun opera (崑曲) troupe 1/2 Q Theatre (二分之一Q劇場), and Spider in Meditation (在天台上冥想的蜘蛛) by the Mobius Strip Theatre (莫比斯圓環創作公社). Both are Taipei-based groups, with Mobius, being founded in 2005, a year older than its compatriot.
The Legend of Peach Blossom Fan is adapted from the Chinese Qing dynasty classic Peach Blossom Fan (桃花扇), written by Kong Shangren (孔尚任). It tells the story of the famous scholar Hou Fang-yu (侯方域) and his paramour, the courtesan Li Xiang-jun (李香君). He gives her a fan, which is splashed with blood when she resists being forced to marry someone else. As with the troupe’s previous productions, The Legend of Peach Blossom Fan will mix kun opera with modern drama techniques.