THE RISE OF CHINA’S ARTS SCENE

Chi­nese artists are leav­ing an ever grow­ing foot­print on the world stage, with the China Shang­hai In­ter­na­tional Arts Fes­ti­val play­ing a vi­tal role in this growth

China Daily (USA) - - SHANGHAI FOCUS - ByZHANGKUN in Shang­hai zhangkun@chi­nadaily.com.cn

This year’s Oct 12 to Nov 15 China Shang­hai In­ter­na­tional Arts Fes­ti­val (CSIAF) fea­tures a greater rep­re­sen­ta­tion of Chi­nese artists and had for the first time opened with a Chi­nese folk con­cert.

Ti­tled New Ori­en­tal, the folk per­for­mance by the Shang­hai Folk Mu­sic Troupe is aimed at pro­mot­ing Chi­nese cul­ture and telling sto­ries from China, said Wang Jun, pres­i­dent of the cen­ter for CSIAF.

Since its found­ing 17 years ago, the CSIAF has been an arts ex­trav­a­ganza that cel­e­brates theater, mu­sic and other per­form­ing arts by tal­ents from home and abroad. This year’s edi­tion com­prises 50 productions, with 22 com­ing from the Chi­nese main­land and 28 from for­eign coun­tries.

“We have been ded­i­cated to in­tro­duc­ing out­stand­ing for­eign art and productions to au­di­ences in Shang­hai, and we are equally de­ter­mined to pro­mote China’s own cre­ativ­ity to the rest of the world,” said Wang.

Folk mu­sic, ac­cord­ing to di­rec­tor of the troupe Luo Xiaoci, re­flects the history, aes­thet­ics and philo­soph­i­cal ideas of a na­tion. In or­der to fea­ture a con­tem­po­rary touch, Luo had in­vited a group of for­eign com­posers, stage de­sign­ers and dancers. Also among the for­eign guests was Bel­gian cel­list Se­bastien Wal­nier who played along­side Chi­nese erhu star Ma Xiaohui.

The mu­si­cal New Ori­en­tal fea­tured one of the old­est mu­sic in­stru­ments in China, a flute made of a bone, dat­ing back 8,000 years, as well as el­e­ments of cal­lig­ra­phy, dance and Chi­nese opera. Gao Shao­qing’s erhu per­for­mance of The Flight of Bum­ble­bee ranked as one of the high­lights of the mu­si­cal.

Apart from folk mu­sic, Kunqu opera also took the spotlight with I, Ham­let, a Chi­nese opera ren­di­tion of the Shake­spearean clas­sic. Chi­nese artist Zhang Jun, who had mas­ter­fully switched the set­tings to an­cient China, per­forms all the var­i­ous roles in this one-man show, singing in Chi­nese and English.

Spon­sored by CSIAF, I, Ham­let is a part of the cen­ter’s Ris­ing Artists Works (RAW) project that has since its in­cep­tion in 2012 com­mis­sioned 50 orig­i­nal productions from young, up-and-com­ing artists.

“The RAW project is an in­cu­ba­tor of orig­i­nal art and young tal­ents, and a plat­form in­tro­duc­ing China’s out­stand­ing shows to the world,” said Wang.

Last year, Ma­le­onn Ma, a con­tem­po­rary artist, pro­duced an orig­i­nal pup­pet show ti­tled Pappa’s Time Ma­chine thanks to a spon­sor­ship from the RAW project.

Ma started his ca­reer as an in­stal­la­tion and pho­tog­ra­phy artist. A few years ago, he be­came in­ter­ested in build­ing pup­pets us­ing re­cy­cled met­als, ma­chin­ery and other ma­te­ri­als. In­spired by the true story be­tween him­self and his fa­ther who is suf­fer­ing from Alzheimer’s Disease, Ma cre­ated a play about love, loss and mem­o­ries.

“The fig­ures and im­agery are so orig­i­nal that it was al­most as if he re-in­vented pup­petry,” said Kelly Wang, pres­i­dent of Li’an Cul­ture De­vel­op­ment Co. Ltd, the pro­ducer of the show.

Ear­lier this year at the an­nual congress of ISPA (In­ter­na­tional So­ci­ety for Per­form­ing Arts) in New York, Pappa’s Time Ma­chine was part of the Pitch New Work ses­sion, in which 10 sub­mis­sions are se­lected to be pitched to more than 400 per­form­ing arts pro­fes­sion­als from more than 50 coun­tries. The suc­cess of the pup­pet show has con­tin­ued at this year’s per­form­ing art fair that is part of the CSIAF when it was in­vited to par­tic­i­pate in sev­eral in­ter­na­tional art fes­ti­vals.

This year, Ma Haip­ing, an elec­tronic mu­sic artist who is also sup­ported by RAW, has cre­ated his first theater pro­duc­tion Fold­ing City, an adap­ta­tion of the Hugo Award-win­ning science fic­tion book Fold­ing Bei­jing by Hao Jing­fang.

The 35-year-old self-con­fessed die-hard science fic­tion fan had in the past few years com­posed and pro­duced mu­sic for var­i­ous theater productions be­fore com­ing up with the idea to cre­ate one.

His Fold­ing City pro­duc­tion fea­tures four LED screens that present a fu­ture city in three dimensions, with laser pro­jec­tion rep­re­sent­ing the pro­tag­o­nist’s trav­els be­tween th­ese dimensions. Apart from the elec­tronic mu­sic that is ar­ranged by Ma him­self, the pro­duc­tion also in­cludes two mu­si­cians who per­form live.

There have al­ready been three suc­cess­ful per­for­mances of Fold­ing City at the Shang­hai Theater Academy and the pro­duc­tion has also gone on a tour in Bei­jing. Ma now hopes to take the show to more cities. En­cour­aged by the pos­i­tive re­sponse from both pro­fes­sion­als and the pub­lic, he is look­ing for new science fic­tion works for theater adap­ta­tion.

“Sci-fi and elec­tronic mu­sic have been in China for some time, al­beit as a mar­ginal cul­ture that is often mis­un­der­stood and mis­in­ter­preted,” he said.

“Fold­ing City is an ex­per­i­ment and I’m glad to ob­serve that more peo­ple have be­gun to re­al­ize the value of science fic­tion and elec­tronic mu­sic. This has helped pushed it from a mar­ginal art form to a pi­o­neer­ing po­si­tion.”

In an un­prece­dented move, RAW this year com­mis­sioned Bella Tong, a di­rec­tor and play­writer from Shang­hai Theater Academy, to work with New Zealand de­sign and theater stu­dio Sto­ry­box to cre­ate a pro­duc­tion ti­tled Du­al­ity.

This im­mer­sive theater ex­pe­ri­ence is driven by a smart phone ap­pli­ca­tion and au­di­ences — no more than a dozen of them for each per­for­mance — are gath­ered not at a theater but a des­ig­nated meet­ing point where ev­ery­one is given a mo­bile phone.

Au­di­ences then re­ceive voice mes­sages and learn about the back­ground of the story be­fore em­bark­ing on a trip in search of a young woman who dis­ap­pears dur­ing the live broad­cast.

The play uti­lizes phone calls, WeChat dis­cus­sions and pop-up news alerts to en­gage the au­di­ences, which play the role of a char­ac­ter in the story. Au­di­ences also get to fol­low the ac­tors around, visit­ing back­stage dress­ing rooms, a stu­dent dor­mi­tory as well as a dark stair­case land­ing.

“Im­mer­sive theater is new, but it has to start some­where,” said Tong about this novel theater ex­pe­ri­ence.

Jonathan Man­dell, a theater critic from New York, said dur­ing the CSIAF that im­mer­sive theater has been grow­ing in pro­file all around the world as it al­lows au­di­ences to cre­ate their own nar­ra­tive, in­ter­act with the ac­tors and be ex­posed to an in­ter­ac­tive sit­u­a­tion where they can ex­pe­ri­ence the play not only through hear­ing and see­ing, but also smelling and even tast­ing.

Man­dell cited Sleep No More, an im­mer­sive play by Punch­drunk Com­pany from Bri­tain, as well as Natasha, Pierre and the Great Comet of 1812, as good ex­am­ples. The two productions take place in an aban­doned build­ing and a Rus­sian tea room re­spec­tively.

Sleep No More, an adap­ta­tion of Shake­speare’s Mac­beth, will be com­ing to Shang­hai on Novem­ber and will take place in a build­ing just off Nan­jing Road West, be­hind the Ma­jes­tic Theater.

Chen Qiang, who has in­tro­duced vir­tual real­ity and aug­mented real­ity tech­nolo­gies to the per­form­ing art fair dur­ing CSIAF, said that while such new modes of theater can at times ob­struct the sto­ry­telling process, they at the same time bring in­fi­nite new pos­si­bil­i­ties and help level the play­ing field.

“In the past, Chi­nese theater art was said to be lan­guish­ing be­hind ma­ture mar­kets such as Broad­way in New York, but now Chi­nese artists are be­ing pre­sented with the same op­por­tu­nity to cre­ate mas­ter­pieces with new tech­nolo­gies such as vir­tual and aug­mented real­ity,” said Chen.

The steady rise of Chi­nese theater and mu­sic per­for­mances can be at­trib­uted to the con­tin­ual ef­forts of CSIAF, said Ru­dolf Tang, founder of a Shang­hai-based per­form­ing arts think tank “Klas­sikom”.

Ear­lier this year, Tang joined the China Na­tional Opera and Dance Drama Theater on their tour of Greece where they per­formed dur­ing a gala con­cert fea­tur­ing orig­i­nal Chi­nese com­po­si­tion and in­stru­ments.

Dur­ing the con­clu­sion of the show, the Chi­nese mu­si­cians played a pop­u­lar Euro­pean piece Never on Sun­day us­ing the Chi­nese pipa in­stead of the bouzouki, a Greek in­stru­ment, and “the au­di­ences loved it” ac­cord­ing to Tang.

“When China tries to pro­mote its cul­ture on the in­ter­na­tional stage, we should find com­mon in­ter­ests and in­spire com­mu­ni­ca­tions in­stead of force-feed­ing it to oth­ers,” he added.

Tang also noted that an in­creas­ing num­ber of Chi­nese mu­si­cians are win­ning in­ter­na­tional prizes, and re­minded peo­ple that Chi­nese con­duc­tors are be­com­ing very revered on the global mu­sic stage.

“Con­duc­tors are at the top of the food chain in the mu­sic in­dus­try. They have great in­flu­ence in the pro­mo­tion of Chi­nese mu­sic, and this gives China a great ad­van­tage,” said Tang.

PHO­TOS PRO­VIDED TO CHINA DAILY

This year's CSIAF fea­tures per­for­mances by 22 do­mes­tic groups and 28 in­ter­na­tional ones.

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