Pre­mieres in DC; an en­chant­ing mys­tery

China Daily (Canada) - - ACROSSAMERICA - By CHANG LIU in Wash­ing­ton

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.

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