One year ago yesterday, part of U-Theatre’s (優人神鼓) compound on Laoquanshan (老泉山) in Taipei’s Wenshan District (文山) was gutted by fire, destroying a rehearsal space, more than 200 instruments, props and equipment.
Yesterday morning, U-Theatre founder and director Liu Ruo-yu (劉若瑀) welcomed the media back to the U-Theatre Mountain Theater (優人神鼓山上劇場), the heart and soul of the Zen drumming group, to preview its “Mountain Festival” that opened last night.
Liu said the fire forced the company to readjust its pace and pull back from some of its international commitments, due to the loss of instruments and props, but that it gave them time to focus on rethinking the relationship between humans and nature.
While the compound might look almost the same as before the fire, they have actually done a lot to it, she said, as she thanked donors and other people who supported the troupe’s efforts.
The troupe’s members did most of the work themselves, building temporary rehearsal areas and new trails, installing rainwater cycling and thermal composting systems and planning a vegetable garden.
They decided to keep the charred pillars and wood from the rehearsal cabin, as well as remains of burned gongs and other instruments, to use in a new open-air art museum and as art installation pieces.
Company manager Ken Kuo (郭耿甫) said the new structures are only temporary, as the plans for a renovated rehearsal studio are still being reviewed by the Taipei Department of Cultural Affairs, and it will need to be rebuilt once the plans are approved.
The Taipei City Cultural Heritage Review Committee in 2008 listed the U-Theatre Mountain Theater as an area of cultural interest, but as the compound is in a hillside reserve and subject to water conservation regulations, new structures are not permitted, although existing structures can be rebuilt.
Liu’s latest work, Conversation with Heaven (祭天), which premiered last night, was inspired by the heartbreak of the fire and the COVID-19 pandemic that has changed life around the world.
“I have dedicated my life to the performing arts, but the pandemic made me question if jobs in the performing arts are important when people are in chaos,” Liu said.
However, historically, the first performances were done by witches and shamans conducting rituals, communicating between heaven and earth, so returning to performance as ritual would make sense, she said.
Conversation with Heaven, which is based on ancient
ceremonies, is a prayer for the world, Liu said.
However, the idea behind this year’s “Mountain Festival,” which runs through Aug. 30, was not just to show U-Theatre’s rebirth, but to allow people to explore nature and themselves.
The second part of the festival, Threshold (閾), curated by Liu’s daughter Chen Tzu-lun (陳紫綸), will see 100 participants going through a 12-hour overnight program next weekend to help them synchronize with nature.
The final installment, Area (域), on Aug. 29 and 30, is an onsite creation program, with 26 young artists giving performances or workshops in drumming, ancient temple dances, fire dancing, storytelling, performance art, modern dance, world music and more over the course of seven hours each day.
Conversation with Heaven and Threshold are sold out, but tickets are still available for Area. More information and ticket registration can be found online (www.accupass.com/event/2006300348014012539430).
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