Renaissance of a town
One of the most renowned stage events in China, the Wuzhen Theatre Festival, is returning for its fifth year. From October 19 to 29, 24 productions from 12 countries and regions will present 100 performances at the historic scenic town of Wuzhen in Zhejiang Province.
Chinese theater director Tian Qinxin will be the artistic director of this year’s festival. Tian will also perform her own play, Turmoil, a story based on the passionate and revolutionary life of Tian Han, who is famously known for penning the lyrics of China’s national anthem.
Theater troupes from Russia, Germany, the UK, the US, Australia, Switzerland, Brazil, Romania, Lithuania, Lebanon and Ireland will also contribute performances, divided into five sections: “Classics Revisited,” “Female Perspectives,” “Multimedia Production,” “Physical Theater,” and “New Voices.”
Chen Xianghong, chairman of the festival since its first edition, summarized the past five years as “the renaissance of a town,” which has broadened the Chinese vision of plays and strengthened the presence of Chinese theaters on the world stage.
He recalled that, when the festival first started, many local residents couldn’t tell stage plays apart from local operas. “They thought the festival was to promote Yueju, a local opera from Zhejiang,” he said.
But five years later he is proud to find that the festival is drawing more young theater lovers as well as foreign audiences, with some Western visitors telling him that “they first heard about the town (Wuzhen) just because of the festival.”
“It is now hard to imagine Wuzhen without a theater festival,” he said.
This year’s festival has attracted a number of world-renowned theater troupes and productions to Wuzhen, many of them debuting for the first time. Director Rimas Tuminas, from the Vakhtangov Theatre in Russia, will perform Eugene Onegin as the festival’s opening play.
Eugene Onegin was called “an encyclopedia of Russian life” in the 19th century, with scenes of everyday life, ideas, moods and habits of the Russian people as seen through Pushkin’s story lines.
Tuminas has produced nearly 30 performances in Russia and Europe, including classic works from Sophocles, William Shakespeare, Friedrich Schiller, Alexander Pushkin, Anton Chekhov and Thomas Bernhard. Fantômas: Revenge of the Image, presented by The CalArts Center for New Performance will have its world premiere at the festival, providing audiences with an innovative and powerful performance experience.
Based on Fantômas, the fictional phantom bandit and figure of criminality from French books and film,
Revenge of the Image explores urban violence as a facet of the contemporary landscape. The production investigates the close relationship between sensation, violence and entertainment in contemporary visual culture.
Throughout the production, the audience moves through space like a rolling camera dolly. The immersive performance is viewed entirely through this moving aperture, not unlike the lens of a camera. Given the limited space for the audience, each performance will only admit 50 people.
Cultivating local talent
Apart from inviting world-renowned troupes and theater directors, the festival also aims to discover young Chinese talents to provide them with an international stage to debut their original works.
Chinese director Zhuang Yi, of Hit Please! Theater Company, will debut his new play The Legend of the
Three Heroes at the festival. Based on the Tang Dynasty (618–907) novella Biography of the Dragon-Beard Man, the play uses a contemporary retelling of an old tale to imagine forgotten battles in history.
With a BA in English Literature from National University of Singapore and a Master of Philosophy in Modern European History from Cambridge University, Zhuang blends classical Chinese paintings, manga, synthesizer music, reality TV and live-streaming sensations all together, conjuring up a poetic past that is also flamboyantly current.
To discover more Chinese theater talents, the festival has also set up a Young Theater Artist’s Competition section for local youth to submit their works. The festival committee has received over 300 applications, the highest in five years, with 18 shortlisted to perform during the festival.
(From top) An architecture in Wuzhen; The Vakhtangov Theatre in Russia will perform Eugene Onegin as the festival’s opening play.
Promotion for Wuzhen Theatre Festival