Thu, Mar 01, 2018 - Page 13 News List

Isle of Dreams

Land and struggles over resources are often at the heart of human conflicts, so why should gods be any different? Playwright Lee Yi-hsiu has created a fable about two clans of gods battling over a very special garden

By Diane Baker  /  Staff reporter

La Cie MaxMind is performing Lee Yi-hsiu’s 2016 hit Isle of Dreams, part two of his trilogy about the struggle between two clans of gods, at the National Theater in Taipei this weekend as part of the Taiwan International Festival of Arts.

Photo Courtesy of Mile End Photography

Everyone is going to be reading the surtitles in the National Theater this weekend as La Cie MaxMind presents a new version of actor/playwright Lee Yi-hsiu’s (李易修) 2016 creation, Isle of Dreams (蓬萊), the second major production of this year’s Taiwan International Festival of Arts.

That is because Lee decided he needed to create a language for his characters to speak, since Isle of Dreams — the second part of his trilogy inspired by the ancient Chinese text Classic of Mountains and Seas (山海經) as well as modern-day problems in Taiwan — is about the rivalry between two clans of gods, so he needed a “godly” language. He used a mixture of Hoklo (more commonly known as Taiwanese), Hakka, Cantonese and the Suzhou dialect to create his dialogue.

Classic of Mountains and Seas, supposedly written by Emperor Yu (禹) of China’s Xia Dynasty, is a compilation of stories about the geography and people of ancient China, the world around them as well as their myths and rituals.

In part one of his trilogy, 2008’s The Drought Goddess (大神魃), Lee used those myths as the basis of a story of the goddess Hanba (旱魃), who was left to wander the world on her own, sowing destruction wherever she went, after the Yellow Emperor asked for her help in defeating an enemy and then betrayed her.

Now with part two, Isle, he tells how the god of war, Xingtian (刑天), who lost his head in the war between the Kunlun gods for the divine throne, receives a summons from the spirits on the Island of Ghosts to find the key to the divine garden and help prevent the end of the world.

He discovers that two of the ancient gods, Fuxi (伏羲) and his sister Nuwa (女媧), want to return the world to its primordial origins and have revived the corpses of dead gods to help them.

Performance Notes

WHAT: Isle of Dreams

WHEN: Tomorrow and Saturday 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$500 to NT$1,600, available at NTCH box offices, online at and at convenience store ticketing kiosks

As with The Drought Goddess, Isle has just a few performers — five in all — who portray multiple characters by alternating between masked performances and manipulating puppets.

And like part one, the storyline of the second installment is blend of ancient lore with contemporary issues such as conflict between individuals and communities, protecting the environment and rival claims over natural resources, nationhood and class. The score is also a blend of old and new: classical Nanguan (南管) and Beiguan (北管) music, rhythm and blues and rap.

Lee, who earned a masters’ degree in acting from Taipei National University of the Arts, has built a career out of mixing the old with the new, working in traditional music and Chinese opera — including Nanguan and Kunqu (崑曲) — as well as contemporary theater. He is the founder of La Cie MaxMind, teaches music at Shih Chien University and is chief executive of the Performance Center at National Central University.

His creative team for the show includes composer Hsu Shu-hui (許淑慧), puppet designer Yeh Man-ling (葉曼玲), multimedia designer Ethan Wang (王奕盛), costume designer Yang Yu-teh (楊妤德) and set designer Hsieh Chun-an (謝均安).

The show runs about 160 minutes with an intermission. There will be a post-show talk after Sunday’s matinee.

This story has been corrected since it was first published to amend one of the Chinese characters in designer Hsieh Chun-an's name.

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