As a declared “Honorary Theatre Wannabe Student” I have the wonderful opportunity to join LPC’s theatre students on their theatre trips to plays and performances. Just yesterday I could watch another play with the group, a piece of experimental theatre called “Stage Sisters” by experimental art pioneer Danny Yung. Danny Yung is a Chinese multi-artist now based in Hong Kong involved in film, theatre and visual art, mostly relating his work to culture and politics in Asia, and considered “one of the most dynamic cultural figures in Hong Kong”. In 2009 he was granted the Merit Cross of the Order of Merit (Bundesverdienstkreuz) of Germany for his efforts in the art and culture exchange between Hong Kong and Germany!
The performance that we watched yesterday night was about Kunqu Opera. There were six actresses on stage, Kunqu Opera master Shu Xiaomei and five other actresses of different backgrounds, exploring the role of women and Kungqu – the oldest form of Chinese opera and – in the history of the People’s Republic of China. Kunqu Opera has been designated as one of the Masterpieces of the Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity by UNESCO in 2001. The performing women examine topics such as “female identity, sexuality, arts and politics” and explored the lives and roles of women in theatre arts in the PRC.
I must say that I didn’t completely understand the meaning of most things in the performance and my interpretations are probably way off the original meanings. However, I was thrilled by the performance’s visuals and deeply appreciated its aesthetics. Danny Yung definitely knows how to bring pure beauty onto stage!
“Stage Sisters” was especially interesting as it had turned the roles of performing artists and watching audience around. We all sat backstage, and in the beginning of the piece, the stage seemed very small and narrow, with only six chairs aligned on the floor. A women took the chairs off stage, one after the other. Then suddenly the area behind what we had thought to be the wall was lightened and we discovered the wall to be transparent. The chairs had been replaced behind what we now saw as transparent curtain, and six women sat there, making strange sounds that I personally would have not considered “singing”. The curtain lifted, and the women stayed there, continuing their noise and seemingly going on for ages with them. When the curtain had been pulled up completely, the whole stage was lightened – and we could see the original, red and empty seats of the auditorium behind them. It was as if we were part of the stage and yet not; invisible, unimportant and simply observing spectators. It was an incomparable feeling and very, very strange.
There was barely any spoken word in the performance. The actresses were singing, dancing, or simply walking and moving around, all in slow-motion. From time to time it felt like nothing was happening, as even though the whole stage was filled with movement, the movements were so slow that it was easy to loose concentration. The accompanying visual and sound effects however were mind-blowing. Especially the whole stage setting – the idea of a swapped audience and stage is not only creative and original but completely baffling! In the middle of the stage there was a red carpet, set alight with red stage lights and sometimes transformed into a water basin by dancing and swirling light reflections on its surface. At some point in the performance there was a huge red fish floating around in the auditorium behind the performer’s stage. I could see the small robot driving around on the floor and pulling the fish behind, but it was still a wonderful sight. The fish was one of the many things, which literally nobody understood, but I think it might have something to do with the Chinese belief of goldfish bringing luck… Finally, possible a symbol for the Kunqu Opera re-arising from oblivion and extinction, one of the door back in the auditorium is opened and a strong, white light shines from it. A dark figure appears in the frame, and one of the actresses slowly walks down the isle, climbs onto stage and moves towards the audience. It looked like an angel descending from a door in heaven during a gigantic dark storm – absolutely brilliant!
In conclusion, I must say I did not understand much of the “play” and thought that it was stuck in time every once in a while, but still found it profoundly beautiful and powerful.