This summer it’s seemed that the Arts section of every newspaper has had an article praising Eastern theatre featuring on the Western stage. This sudden whirlwind of admiration for foreign productions has made me wonder why art becomes transposable between cultures. We still have a habit of looking at Eastern and Western theatre as things that remain separate from each other in focus and dramatic style. Yet I believe we have recently come to a point where we are seeing the gaps between the two markers of East and West close, resulting in a creation of stronger intercultural ties, development, and self-awareness.
The 2011 Edinburgh Fringe bore the tagline “To the far West”, focusing on cultural connections and performance traditions. Jonathan Mills, the Fringe’s director, explained, “What the festival is attempting to do is not simply to demonstrate the influence of Asia on Europe, or Europe on Asia, but build a bridge between Europe and Asia.” Building bridges of understanding through experience and learning is particularly well done through theatre, a medium where actor and audience are of equal weight to the performance. Theatre is a meditation on life’s movements, a medium to demonstrate life in its various forms. This is perhaps why this summer saw such an intriguing theatrical line-up – it presented vividly new, fresh accounts of life.
…modern dance, avant-garde music, and a dreamlike atmosphere…
Japanese composer, Toshio Hosokawa, has said that “the substance of the new is essential”. Hosokawa’s latest piece, Matzukaze (which toured in Luxembourg and Berlin in early summer), mixes traditional Noh theatre and contemporary opera: “I wanted to create Noh theatre completely anew… Noh, the way one sees it today, is actually rather boring. It has become a kind of museum piece, performed for too long without change.” Hosokawa has taken the frame of a story that originated from the 15th century, Noh, and has filled it with Berliner Sasha Waltz’s movements of modern dance, avant-garde music, and a dreamlike atmosphere. We see an artistic collaboration of East and West, resulting in the creation of a unique, artistically mature performance.
Creating traditions anew was also seen during Edinburgh Fringe, with a particular interest in Shakespeare. A surprising amount of his work was taken by Eastern groups and moulded into something strange and innovative. The Chinese production of Romeo and Juliet exhibited 21st century performance methods, including 3D animation and animated scenery. The Tawainese actor, Wu Hsing-kuo, wrote, directed, and performed a one-man version of King Lear in Mandarin, and the Shanghai Peking Opera Troupe presented an adaptation of Hamlet in the costumed and acrobatic style of Jingju opera. Shakespeare became astonishingly transformed with the movement, dance, and song of eastern theatrical form.
…what art is about, its fluctuations and interchangeability…
Interestingly, this summer’s artistic program has shown Asia from a Western cultural perspective, strengthening its own artistic and cultural concerns. In his show, Wu Hsing-kuo asked, “How do people in Asia today see Shakespeare? I would say that we believe he tells of what it is to be human, and makes us feel what society is. In that way, his work is similar to our traditional opera; it talks of ethics and morality, and of how we should live.” These bits of connection and intercultural exchange are precisely what art is about, its fluctuations and interchangeability; gifts which should perhaps be further acted upon to create an artistically richer environment.
Image courtesy of Wu Hsing-kuo and the National Ballet of China