Play about former soldier set to return to Beijing
Ku Pao-ming recallshowhis family celebrated Spring Festival when he was a child.
His father would cook many delicious dishes and they would sit around the dining table remembering their ancestors. During mealtime on the eve of Chinese New Year, he would listen to his father’s stories about their family, who lived in Shanghai before moving to Taiwan.
Ku’s father was a Kuomintang soldier, who — along with thousands from the Nationalist force — retreated to Taiwan in 1949 at the end of the civil war.
As he grew up, Ku, now 66, realized that the stories his father told him were a result of being away from home for long.
So when the actor was asked by the Taiwan Godot Theater Company in 2015 if he could play the role of Zhao Guozhong, a war veteran who left Shandong province for Taiwan, in the company’s stage drama Jie Song Qing, Ku readily agreed.
After its successful debut in April in Beijing, the drama, which is called Driving Miss Xu in English, is set to return to the city onNov 11.
As an actor, Ku likes to play different roles because they enable him to “experience different lives”, Ku says. “I’m familiar with the role in Driving MissXu and it feels personal and connected.”
He was born in Taipei and grew up among military dependents, a community in Taiwan that was built after 1949 to house the former Kuomintang soldiers.
When Taiwan’s contemporary theater scene was forming in the early 1980s, Ku opened the Lan Lin Theater with friends such as veteran actor Chin Shih-chieh.
Boss Yuan, a leading man in the play Secret Love in Peach Blossom Land, by Taipei-based director Stan Lai, is among Ku’s major roles. The play was performed in 1986 and is still staged.
When his father was alive, he wished to return to the mainland to reunite with friends — something that the main character from Jie Song Qing also wants to do.
While Ku’s parents went to Taiwan together, Zhao Guozhong is separated from his family in the play, which shows him as the driver of a doctor who saved him. He develops a close relationship with the doctor’s daughter, Xu Baihe, and witnesses her sufferings from losing her father to being betrayed by her husband.
“I like the portrayal of long-lasting relationships in the play, which is simple but powerful,” Ku says. “Though Zhao Guozhong and Xu Baihe are not husbandandwife, the emotions between them is beyond that.” and Du Liniang will Rencontre between Debussy
Rencontre between Debussy and Du Liniang combines piano, played by Gu, with Chinese Kunqu Opera classic The Peony Pavilion, which is based on the work of Ming Dynasty (1368-1644) playwright Tang Xianzu. The musical also has others — artists Yang Yongliang and Xu Yi; and a live band featuring bamboo flutist Shi Chengji, zhongruan (a Chinese plucked string instrument) player Chao Chen and composer Jin Weiwei who strive to expand the dimensions of the piano and Kunqu Opera. In Tang’s work, the story revolves around Liu Mengmei, a poor young scholar, and Du Liniang, the daughter of a high-ranking official, who share the dream of meeting and falling in love under a tree, despite the fact that they’ve never met. Tormented by this unfulfilled love, Du dies. Years later, Liu passes by the same garden and finds Du’s portrait. He immediately recognizes the woman and eventually digs her out of her grave, “revives” her and marries her. In Gu’s rendition, Du stands out as an independent role, singing to the music selected from French composer Claude Debussy’s piano repertoires, such as The Girl with the FlaxenHair and Clair de Lune. “Debussy is one of my favorite composers. WhenI was young, I played lots of his works but was not able to fully understand him,” Gu tells China Daily. As for Kunqu Opera, Gu’s family introduced her to the trad i t i o n a l Chinese art form as a child. Gu’s great-uncle, V.K. Wellington Koo, was a prominent diplomat of the Republic of China; and her father, Gu Keren, studies traditional Chinese literatureandisaKunquOperascholar.
At age 18, she went to Conservatoire de Paris on full scholarship and graduated with a master’s degree in piano and chamber music. She returned to Shanghai around four years ago.
Her study in France enabled Gu to better interpret Debussy and she realized the composer was fond of using unusual scale patterns, especially pentatonic scale, a musical scale containing five different tones, which is the basic scale of traditional Chinese music. Since 2009 she has been doing a comparative analysis of Debussy’s piano music and traditional Chinese music.
Over the past five years, Gu has widened the subject to Chinese traditional painting, architecture and poetry. Kunqu Opera is part of her research on connecting Chinese culture with Debussy’s music.
In 2014, she presented a 15-minute show, which, by working with Suzhou Kunqu Opera Theater, formed the basis of the later production Rencontre between Debussy and Du Liniang.
Lu Jia, a veteran Kunqu Opera performer of the Suzhou theater, plays the role of Du in Gu’s production. “When Kunqu Opera and Debussy’s music come together, it turns out to be harmonious and compatible,” says Lu.
According to Gu, Rencontre between DebussyandDuLiniang is the first production of her series, I Fantasie— a multiplatform music theater concept, in which she experiments not just with music but also on a broader artistic level.
“I will adjust Rencontre between Debussy and Du Liniang as we stage it more,” Gu says.
“Both contemporary Western art and traditional Chinese art heavily influenced me. And withmy projects, I like to push boundaries and reach a balance.”
Contact the writer at chennan@ chinadaily.com.cn parade. They wore T-shirts, which had printed words like ‘going home’. My father was one of them,” says Lang, 51, referring to 1987, when former Kuomintang soldiers were allowed to visit the mainland for the first time after the founding of NewChina.
In1988, Lang and her father visited Nanjing in Jiangsu province.
“The moment my father saw his mother he knelt down and cried like a child. I understood how badly my father wanted to go home,” says Lang.
In the play, the driver also received a letter from his wife in Shandong province in 1987. But after decades, the couple barely recognized each other when they finally met. The last thing he remembers is a pancake his wife made for him before he left for Taiwan.
“His wife brings him pancake when they meet again, and Zhao cries. This scene touchesmy heart,” says Ku.
Taiwan Godot Theater Company’s founder, Liang Chih-min, is the director of the play. Founded in 1988, the company has produced more than 30 contemporary plays, including Kiss Me Nana and The Angel Never Sleeps.
“This is the first production of our company that deals with the subject of the soldiers,” Liang says.
“These people and their homesickness should be remembered.”
Gu Jieting, pianist. Gu Jieting and Kunqu Opera actress Lu Jia share the stage during the show Rencontrebetween DebussyandDuLiniang. 7:30 pm, Nov 14. 2 West Chang’an Avenue, Xicheng district, Beijing. 010-6655-0000.