Idees, Pensee, Muses sur la musique & theatre

Tag Archives: Theater

Asia Society has invited the Shanghai Kunqu Opera Troupe for two performances of “The Lanke Mountain”. This piece is not performed often. All the more reason to see it! The story follows the heroine, Cui, who divorces her husband and then attempts to reunite with him when he becomes financially successful. What a revolutionary-minded gal!

Kunqu was developed during the late Yuan Dynasty (1279-1368), and is said to have evolved from theatrical forms that go back to the third century B.C. Kunqu’s emergence ushered in a golden age of Chinese drama in which it dominated Chinese theatre from the sixteenth to eighteenth centuries.

Kunqu is known for its elegant performing style. In Kunqu, music, dance and acting are all integrated into a seamless and fluid performance. Most of the popular pieces in the Kungqu repertory are love stories. But The Lanke Mountain is a “moral tale featuring slapstick comedy,” which adds another incentive to see it.


This is the poster of one of the most popular recent restagings of "The Peony Pavilion".

The Metropolitan Museum of Art announced that it will present a new version of The Peony Pavilion at its Astor Court in November and December. It will be a contemporary adaption of the 16th-century Kunqu opera masterpiece. The new version will be by composer Tan Dun and choreographer Huang Doudou. Tan’s new score, which recalls the style and themes of traditional Kunqu music, will be performed by a traditional Kunqu ensemble of four musicians, and will include taped elements.

The Peony Pavilion has become the Chinese Romeo and Juliet: readapted and reinterpreted by later artists over and over again. What’s the appeal? The story of The Peony Pavilion really stretches credibility – the heroine meets the hero in her dream, she then dies of lovesickness and appears in his dream to ask him for help to return her to life. I doubt even the most dreamy teenagers will ever imagine that to happen in real life.

But the lyrics belong to the best of Chinese literatures. The music and movement represent the pinnacle of Chinese theater art. As they say “Good artists borrow; Great artists steal.” So many artists have found something to borrow or steal from this great source of material. In this case, there’s also the benefit that, although many people have heard of the name “The Peony Pavilion”, most people have not seen a traditional staging of it. So whether it’s borrowed or stolen, most audience won’t be able to tell!

The New York Times reported that composer Timothy Huang’s musical The Cost of Living has been selected as a finalist for the American Harmony Prize. The musical is based on an actual story that happened in 2009 when two immigrant cabdrivers whose taxi-sharing partnership ended with one attacking the other with a meat cleaver and then jumping to his death from the Robert F. Kennedy Bridge.

In the real-life scenario, the two cabbies were Nepali immigrants. Huang changed them to Chinese to reflect his own background.

Taxi drivers lead a life that involves sitting in a confined space circling New York streets for long hours. I’d say plenty of time for reminiscing in songs. But how is he going to make them dance? And how is the final confrontation to be staged? A la West Side Story? It sounds interesting. I wish I could see it.

Broadway leading man B.D. Wong has this nice photo in the Wall Street Journal. Wong is writing a new musical for RTKids, an institution that is dedicated to helping children succeed academically through outside classes and mentoring in music, dance and drama. Sounds like a training groud for future Glee members!

The Chinese story of two women both claiming to be the birth-mother of a child is best-known in the West from Bertolt Brecht’s adaptation. That version, The Caucasian Chalk Circle, is considered to be one of the most important from Brecht’s “epic theater” oeuvres. But what about the Chinese original? Where did it come from? How does it different from Brecht’s version? Well, Joanna Chan of the Yangtze Repertory Theatre of America has found it and adapted it into a play. She calls it just The Circle of Chalk, plain and simple. And she is also directing it.

Her adaptation also has a twist: it employs Chinese Opera elements with the heroine played by a male actor (Denver Chiu). No, it is not a drag show. Male actors have played females role on Chinese opera stages for hundreds of years, just like they did in Shakespeare’s time. The tradition continues even today in Chinese Opera. But performances in the Chinese opera are highly stylized. Will it fit the more naturalistic modern Western play convention? Let’s find out.

There will be two Chinese performances in this year’s Lincoln Center Festival: The TAO Dance Theater on July 25 and 27; A chamber opera by Chinese composer Guo Wenjing called Feng Yi Ting on July 26, 27, 28. The later is billed as a multimedia presentation directed by film director Atom Egoyan.

I always have ambiguous feelings about LCF. They always have interesting programs that you are not likely to see anywhere else in New York. But the whole Festival is permeated with a feeling of luxury that is off-putting to people who do not have summer houses in the Hamptons. Although their tickets seem to sell out very quickly. So maybe that is just me.

Here is from the official press release:

Beijing’s TAO Dance Theater’s choreographer Tao Ye is regarded as the most exciting name in modern dance in China. Founded in 2008 by Ye and dancer Wang Hao, a specialist in Mongolian folk dance, TAO Dance Theater has grown to become China’s most highly sought-after modern dance company. The company will present two works at the Festival. The first, 2, is a duet developed from the rhythms of the spoken word; the performers recorded their own conversations during rehearsal and daily life to develop the accompanying soundscape. The resulting performance is both hypnotic and thought-provoking, as virtuosic patterns emerge from minimalistic movements to represent two souls in conversation. The second work, 4, is the company’s newest creation, a high-impact and intensely physical piece for four women seen here in its North American premiere.

TAO Dance Theater aims to challenge all previous conceptions of modern dance. Ye and Hao focus all their time and energy on their craft, exploring form as content, investigating musical and physical interaction, and experimenting with minimalism as well as layered patterns of gesture and spacial locomotion. They eschew the representational modes often seen in modern dance throughout China. Having collaborated with leading artists across genres, the Company has toured extensively in Europe and been featured in festivals worldwide, and includes dancer/choreographer Duan Ni, who returned to China in 2008 to work exclusively with Ye and Hao.

Chinese composer Guo Wenjing, whose opera Ye Yan/The Night Banquet had its U.S.premiere at Lincoln Center Festival 2002, returns to the Festival with the New York premiere of a new production of his 2004 chamber opera, Feng Yi Ting (“The Phoenix Pavilion”). This new work is based on a scene from a very popular Chinese tale about a woman who is so beautiful she can save an empire by causing two rival warlords to fall in love with her. It is set during the end of the Eastern Han dynasty (25 – 220 AD).

Guo Wenjing, Chair and professor of the Composition Department at the Central Conservatory of Music in Beijing, has composed numerous works which have been performed around the globe. His music, known for its dramatic, majestic, and dreamlike lyricism, blends the musical heritage of China with stylistic elements of the late 20th century avant-garde. His music was first heard in the West in 1983.

The composer describes the opera as an unusual one for him. Embedded within his original work are traditional opera arias sung by a Sichuan opera soprano and Beijing opera countertenor. Ken Lam, winner of the 2011 Memphis International Conducting Competition and Orchestra Director at Montclair State University, will lead Ensemble ACJW—a collective of outstanding young professional musicians from Carnegie Hall and Juilliard’s The Academy —and a chamber ensemble consisting of four musicians on traditional Chinese instruments (pipa, dizi, erhu and sheng) in the performance. The U.S.premiere of Feng Yi Ting will take place at Spoleto Festival USA in May.

Film director Atom Egoyan will direct this multimedia production. The creative team includes costumes by Chinese fashion and costume designer Han Feng, most recently known for her spectacular designs for Anthony Minghella’s production of Madama Butterfly at the Metropolitan Opera in 2008 and subsequently the opera version of Amy Tan’s The Bonesetter’s Daughter. Video in this production is by Hong Kong-based visual artist Tsang Kin-wah, with sets by Tony Award-winner Derek McLane.

“What Happens when Peking Opera meets William Shakespeare in Wu Hsing-Kuo’s Contemporary Legend Theatre” is the intriguing title of a talk at the Taipei Economic and Cultural Office in New York on March 21. Ken Smith, music critic of The Financial Times and Mary Lou Aleskie, Executive Director of the International Festival of Arts & Ideas will discuss Wu Hsing-Kuo’s theater work King Lear. This work was presented at the Lincoln Center Festival in 2007. It is King Lear not only told in Beijing Opera idiom, but by only one actor – Wu Hsing-Kuo himself. You might call it minimalist since there is only one actor and no set. You might also call it maximalist because Beijing opera’s use of elaborate customs and make-up, some it reminds me of Akira Kurosawa’s Ran. The work will be presented at the International Festival of Arts & Ideas on June 28 & 29.