Premieres in DC; an enchanting mystery
If finding true love isn’t already complicated enough, doing so in defiance of the laws of nature can only lead to more loss — or is it more gain?
The theme is explored in the Chinese masterpiece Green Snake, which the National Theatre of China premiered Thursday evening at the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in Washington, DC.
Written by Hong Kong author Li Bihua, Green Snake is based on folklore Legend of the White Snake that dates back to the Song dynasty, which is one of the most famous tales in ancient China.
The tale goes that a white snake (called Bai Suzhen) came to the human world as she was longing for human life, and married a young man named Xu Xian. However, such marriage was opposed by Fahai, a Buddhist monk in Jinshan Temple, who maintained that coexistence of human and evil spirit was unallowable. He then suppressed the white snake under Leifeng Pagoda at the bank of the West Lake.
Li’s Green Snake, published in 1993, focuses on Bai’s companion Xiaoqing, the green snake. It explores Xiaoqing’s attraction not just to the monk Fahai, who wants to expose Bai’s true identity, but also Bai and Xu. In Tian’s play, Fahai becomes the protagonist who struggles to smother his desires.
To combine originality and retain the classical elements of Green Snake, director Tian Qinxin said the performance adopts contemporary Chinese language. “Although we don’t include Internet slang, the language is as straightforward as people chatting online,” she said.
Tian said when she was approached by Li to direct the play, she felt “it was too much of a challenge because the main characters — the two female snakes — transform themselves between human, spirit, and Buddha forms”. But over the span of ten years, “I am more courageous,” Tian said.
Tian said it is a huge honor to be invited to the Kennedy Center. “We have an international crew on our technical support team. Our stage designer is from Germany. On the sets in China, we applied more Western-style designs. But in the US, we applied more Chinese traditional designs, for example, a very thick cement wall. I think the differences will pique the audience’s curiosity.”
Chinese actress Qin Hailu, who plays Green Snake, explained her understanding of Fahai and Xiaoqing. “Although Fahai does not accept green snake’s affection, he understands and accepts her emotions. This love transcends physical desire, so he lets green snake crawl on his eaves for 500 years,” said Qin. “In pure love, there is no such thing as asking for something in return. When a person truly does not care about getting something in return, he or she will reach eternal love. ”
“Although green snake does not know much about the world, she understands emotions and the principles of life. Many audiences have seen the innocent and naive part of green snake’s heart. However, few see her wisdom,” Qin said with a laugh. “It is hard to say if green snake is young or old, since she lived for 500 years as a spirit.”
Qin believes that in this context, green snake will find happiness eventually because she is honest and stays true to herself. “green snake’s pursuit of pure love will touch many people in the heart. Her passion will resonate with them. Seldom in this modern world can a woman stay with her first love forever. But after a womsn experiences so much, can she still remain an innocent heart that chases after pure love? It would be very difficult, and that’s why green snake is so worthy. ”
As for her expectations for American audiences, Tian said she felt young Americans are more open. “I look forward to them viewing the mysterious world of two beautiful snake spirits who are willing to brave hardships and make sacrifices for love.”
Dorothy Antrake from Washington, who was among the audience, said the performance was wonderful. She said she likes the courage of the green snake, adding “She is willing to take risks with less caution than her sister, the white snake, has.” She believed that in the real society, if a woman resembles the spirit of the green snake, she will end up happier than the white snake because she lives her life to the fullest and is willing to experience more.”
However, her friend, Claudia Shay from Hawaii, who enjoyed methodology, production and staging of Green Snake, held a different opinion. “I think the white snake will end up happier if she is a woman in the real society because she has more wisdom brought along by time and experience,” Shay said.
Hong Kong designer Gufang Chen, who did the costumes for movies such as A Chinese Ghost Story, designed the costumes for the play. Agis Center for Arts and Humanities helped translate the Green Snake performance for American audiences. President of Agis Center Jiang Liu said that Green Snake is a big step up for the Sino-US cultural exchange, adding that “these years of cultural exchange activities have laid solid foundation for presenting such an ultimate Chinese art program”.
The modern tale GreenSnake made its US premiere at the Kennedy Center in Washington.