Blooming Enlightenment (花蕊渡河) by the U-Theater group (優人神鼓) proved an enormous success at the Taipei International Flora Expo (台北國際花博) last year. The original 40-minute performance has since been heavily reworked and expanded (it will run around 70 minutes) to create a new show featuring extensive input from U-Theater’s youth contingent, mostly in their late teens and early 20s.
Leo Fu (傅祺棠), a spokesperson for U-Theater, said that Blooming Enlightenment would be the last new production prior to the group embarking on a three-year hiatus. Fu said that founder Liu Ruo-yu (劉若瑀) wants to slow down the frantic cycle of creation and performance, and take a breather to refresh its creative juices.
At the same time, this new production is a celebration of the last decade or so of performance and training, taking young members of the theater group, many who joined educational programs run by U-Theater as children, onto the stage of Taiwan’s foremost performance venues.
“U-Theater has been cultivating young performers over the last decade. Now that we (the older generation of performers) are becoming weary of our heavy performance schedule, the young performers are there to pick up the burden and take a leading role,” Liu said in a statement.
Blooming Enlightenment has just completed two preliminary shows in Yuanlin and Chiayi, which proved very popular despite the many departures from U-Theater’s usual performance style. “We were very nervous about this production,” Fu said, “since we had no idea what the audience response would be like. But the audience was really positive, with good ticket sales and an engaging post-performance Q&A.”
What: Blooming Entertainment
When: Sept. 28 to 29 at 7:30pm (Taichung); Oct. 11 to 13 at 7:30pm and Oct. 13 to 14 at 2:30pm (Taipei); Dec. 2 to 3 at 7:30pm (Kaohsiung)
Where: Taichung Chungshan Hall (台中市中山堂), 98 Syueshih Rd, Taichung City (台中市學士路98號), National Theater, Taipei City and Kaohsiung Cultural Center’s Chihteh Hall (高雄市立文化中心至德堂), 67 Wufu 1st Rd, Kaohsiung City, (高雄市五福一路67號)
Admission: Tickets are NT$350 to NT$1,800 for Taichung and Kaohsiung, NT$400 to NT$2,000 for Taipei; available through NTCH ticketing and online at www.artsticket.com.tw
The new production looks very different from what we have come to expect from U-Theater. There is a lot more color, a radical move away from U-Theater’s preference for an earthy palette, and the mood of youthful vitality is also a contrast to the often somber intensity of U-Theater performances. The otherworldly abstractions that serve the focus of the group’s expressive efforts are also filled out with a more accessible storyline.
The concept for the original show — a wanderer’s observation of a wild flower from bud to dissolution and his realization of the forces that drive the cycle of life — was taken from a five character haiku. It has now been further expanded to include a group of student backpackers who stop to rest at a temple, meet the wanderer and learn from him.
The youth contingent are not only performers, but have played an active role in the creative process for the new production, from composition through to presentation. According to U-Theater, this is an attempt to showcase the creativity and youthful exuberance of the younger generation, but also to create a more lighthearted and less constrained musical format in which to explore complex, even mystical issues.
The participation of the younger members of U-Theater, many of whom are currently studying performance art at college, has led to the incorporation of many unexpected elements in this production, reflecting their exposure to international musical culture. “You would not expect to see a xylophone or glockenspiel in a U-Theater production, but these instruments, among others, have been added, making the musical texture much more varied,” Fu said.
“At heart, the spirit of U-Theater remains the same,” Fu said. “It’s just that the presentation has changed, and we hope that this will provide more avenues to gain a deeper understanding of the U-Theater message.”