La Disparition reverie sous I’arbre de mille ans, a final installment of the A Sleep and a Forgetting (一睡一醒) trilogy, a collaboration between Taipei’s Flying Group Theater (飛人集社劇團) and L’est et l’Ouest from France, fuses puppetry and human actors to create a dreamlike world that encourages children to comprehend and imagine death.
The idea of talking to young audiences about the questions of life, death and growing up came about when Marseille-based playwright and actor Chou Jung-shih (周蓉詩), who founded theatrical group L’est et l’Ouest in 2009, approached Flying Group Theater, one of the few contemporary puppet theaters in Taiwan, about tackling the serious topics in fanciful puppet form a few years ago.
The troupe’s artistic director Shih Pei-yu (石佩玉) said she hesitated at first.
“The project was kind of awkward for us since our productions had always aimed at adults rather than children,” Shih said. “But a closer look at the story shows its ambition to be different. It is rare to have children’s theater dealing with such grave matters in life, and strive to do so in an imaginative manner.”
Shih added that inspiration for the work also comes from English Romantic poet William Wordsworth’s Ode: Intimations of Immortality from Recollections of Early Childhood, in which “life is thought to be an endless journey between sleep and wakefullness,” Shih said.
The trilogy started in 2011 with La Naissance (初生), which depicts the beginning of life through a little girl’s playful adventure with her whale friend. In last year’s Le Jour de Grandir (長大的那一天), a boy and a girl enter a magic forest inhabited by chimerical creatures in order to find the day when they grow up.
Premiering tonight at Taipei’s Experimental Theater as part of the ongoing Taiwan International Festival of Arts (台灣國際藝術節), the third and last segment centers on a sister and a brother who jump into a hollow tree trunk to reach another world where they believe their deceased mother dwells. Along the way, they play games with the immortal Dragon King and join a harvest carnival celebrating rebirth after death.
Shih and her team use handmade puppets, masks, human actors and shadow puppetry to present the atmospheric, fairytale-like world in Chou’s story and bring to life the curious characters that come from French artist Ghislaine Herbera’s illustrations. The four performers will perform as actors and puppeteers simultaneously. The performance will be accompanied by Wang Yu-jun’s (王榆鈞) live music.
To director and puppet designer Shih, the biggest attraction of puppetry lies in its endless imagination and possibilities.
“The forms are diverse. It can be light and shade, an object or a realistic puppet. It instills life into inert objects and makes audiences believe that a piece of paper is a bird,” she said. “I want to use all these elements to find a different kind of poetry in theater.”
La Disparition reverie sous I’arbre de mille ans is 50 minutes long and suitable for children aged three and up. A question and answer session will be held after the matinee show tomorrow.
After its premiere in Taipei, the production will begin a nation-wide tour in April and move to Marseille in October. Meanwhile, the first two parts of the trilogy will have their national and Asian tours throughout the year. More information about the performances can be found at Flying Group Theater’s Web site: www.flying-group.com.tw.