Friday, December 21, 2007

Oriental Puppet Collection at Chaoyang Cultural Centre.

Walking through Chaoyang Cultural Center, a rambling and dark ex-communist party building, and trying to find one of its 9 theaters, I found some obscure rooms with something similar to "collections": Communist pictures (yes, Marx, Engels, Mao, etc.), a library with old and dusty books, some group of ancient home appliances (from 50s and 60s) and one large and interesting oriental puppet collection.

Talking about these puppets, the way to exhibit them was very poor, most of them one over the other and in only two glass boxes contained the whole group. But even do, it was interesting and I can say, beautiful. Some of these puppets were really nice pieces of craftsmanship.

The video is very short but it shows you well the collection.

Monday, December 17, 2007

Mei Lanfang's eye expressions, an important document.

Being conscious about the importance of keeping alive his acting technique, Mei Lanfang, the biggest Chinese Opera star in history, left 48 photographs with his different eye expressions.

An invaluable document for next generations, not only of Beijing Opera actors, but for any conscious player coming from any theatrical tradition.

I saw these 48 photographs for the first time in one visit to Mei Lanfang Memorial House Museum in September 2005, and of course it was impossible taking off the photographs from their panels. So, it was until the beginning of this year when I bought the latest edition of the book with documents about the professional life of Mei Lanfang that contained these precious images.

I edited one slideshow with the whole set of photographs.

Monday, December 10, 2007

Picasso is painting... One way to understand "acting creation" through a physical action chain.

More than 15 years ago Teatro Potlach, from Italy, visited Mexico City to offer some master classes and courses about their technical work.

At that time I was working for “Escenología” and I was part of the small company that Edgar Ceballos, the director, was preparing and which never made it to its first performance (1).

Everything around us was about physical actions, from Grotowski’s point of view as well from Theatre Anthropology’s views researched at I.S.T.A. (International School of Theatre Antrophology) (2), so these series of courses and master classes were very important for our development.

Teatro Potlach, Pino di Buduo (their director) and their actresses exhibited a concrete example of what our work could be in the future but, even more important, they were a reference point for a total comprehension of that technique we were trying to assimilate.

Creating physical actions, editing the line of actions, understanding the dramatic chain inside the line of actions by the player (the creator), those were really difficult points to comprehend; in general, practicing and working with details is the solution, but examples were absolutely necessary. So, how did Teatro Potlach show those points within a 1 hour master class?

At one point, one of the actresses called our attention; after showing in many acting ways the creation process of physical actions and how they become a chain of actions and a final story on stage, she decided to use a final example which comprised all the points in synthesis, an example that didn’t come from Theater but from Art: a singular scene from the documentary “Le Mystère Picasso”.

That scene showed us Picasso painting live before the camera and creating a painting in a minimal lapse of time: 5 minutes. We observed the development of creating a piece of art, in actions (in this case painting actions) which exemplified that chain of actions we were trying to understand before. The painter had many levels of creation, every one apparently independent from each other but inevitably connected: Picasso first painted three sunflowers, after that and over it a fish, after that and over it a cock, finally adding colour over all the images depicted before arriving to the conclusive figure, a Picasso painting.

That final figure was a result of each one of the others, step by step, but in the end, who couldn’t watch the process could only see the end result, the final figure, the final story.

Those 5 minutes were decisive for my professional activity, Picasso, as a genious, taught me, by creating, how every action could be woven with others to finally create the story we were looking for. Since that moment I’ve just continued exploring my way of weaving actions, literary actions, physical actions, image-actions. Picasso and his process are still working in my memory.

Well, after more than 15 years of my seeing this documentary at the old “Escuela de Bellas Artes” in Mexico, I found this video on sale inside a Chinese shop. I couldn’t resist sharing it, so you can use those images as you wish.

If you are interested in the whole documentary, a simple “google search” will direct you to Amazon or any other dedicated site. (3)

"Le Mystère Picasso"
A film produced and directed by H.G. Clouzot
With: Pablo Picasso
Paris, France, 1956.

(1) Escenología... that company didn’t become a reality, but the experiences we lived there formed an epoch in my life. Escenología must be a pretext for many posts in this Blog.
(2) For information about I.S.T.A. visit:
(3) About the documentary:

Tuesday, December 4, 2007

Strange Fruit in Beijing: SynchroSwing

The Festival of Australian Theatre in China finished with SynchroSwing, a performance by Strange Fruit. (1)

Strange Fruit produces acrobatic spectacles based on one original mechanical tool:

a 4 metre high flexible poles of original design, the troupe delivers a sublime performance, bending and swaying in the air, captivating and engaging the audience in absolute fascination. (sic)

Originally based on the image of a field of wheat swaying in the breeze, the poles' extreme strength and flexibility allow the performer to bow to impossible angles, swaying back and forth in a hypnotising dance as the audience looks up in wonder. (sic)

With a world-renowned repertoire that celebrates a wide variety of themes and stories, the company has achieved near-cult status in almost every continent across the globe (sic). Performing regularly at festivals, special events and private functions, their sublime, hypnotic beauty is truly remarkable and must be experienced to appreciate its full effect. (sic)” (2)

It seems the company (according to their own words of course) has had a big success wherever it has passed by. Well, not in Beijing.

They have a repertoire of 7 spectacles, all of them based on the same structure described above, and I want to say it’s “a very practical formula”: these flexible poles, special music (as anyone would expect), spectacular costumes, and the number of people playing the same choreography in a big square or any special public space. Their theatricality approaches Circus far more than Drama, so their stories are very simple, they’re only concept-action. There’s not much to say, Strange Fruit’s spectacles are “consumer products”, once you know the successful formula you only need change the other ingredients.

SynchroSwing, the production they brought to Beijing, was originally created for an opening ceremony of the FINA swimming competition some years ago. On that occasion the group on stage were between 6 to 10 acrobats on the poles, but in Beijing they decided to play with... three.

I have no idea which were the contract conditions for coming to China, but what I saw, the performance resulting from it, was graceless and esthetically poor: three people (one man and two women), ridiculously dressed like synchronised swimming competitors, also acting ridiculously like them, and “dancing” on the poles for 15 or 20 minutes to a Waltz. A spectacle without reason at a Chinese amusement park (remember it was specially created for another event, an international swimming competition) and part of a Theatre Festival which was supposed to offer a panoramic view of the Australian Stage.

They played like children, jeeringly, looking like fools and stupid. The “formula” worked, yes; people smiled, applauded, even laughed; those 3 poles, acrobatics and music saved everything.

I was shocked thinking how this could be the closing spectacle for the Festival of Australian Theatre in China, so shameful and disrespectful to Chinese spectators and the Australian theatre itself. They brought to Beijing their own rubbish.

I must insist, this is my point of view of one performance I saw and not about the whole production of Strange Fruit that I’d never seen before (3). The video I recorded is simple but concrete.

Strange Fruit and Australian theatre should be a lot more than that and Chinese spectators deserved a real understanding of the high level Australian performing arts have reached.

Who organized this? Nobody who loves Australian theatre, and nobody who loves Chinese.

I recalled some “international” events in Mexico, how Mexicans received rubbish from famous companies of the world and I thought how similar Chinese spectators are; both nations are isolated form the high western art and culture, they lack critic sense, then both smile and applaud with an idea of naiveté, lightness and surprise.

About the Festival of Australian Theatre in China:

About Strange Fruit:

The same videos in Vimeo:

(1) November 3rd, 2007. Chaoyang Gongyuan (Chaoyang Amusement Park). Beijing, China.
(2) The quotation comes from Strange Fruit’s site.
(3)You can see videos of the other spectacles at Strange Fruit’s site:

Monday, November 19, 2007

Music and Dance while I was walking on the streets of London

London is a cultural city; there are on the streets or inside the subway stations performance spaces for those artists who can't pay for a rent of an usual commercial space. Listening and watching those musicians and dancers was a real moment of resting in my journey to anywhere.

I recorded several of them (here 5). The best way to enjoy them (if you don't care where they are performing) I think is watching every video in different moment, a little bit as I caught them.

It is a "playlist" on Youtbe, so you must chose which of them you want to see inside the window player.

- Hightown Crows at Portobello Market, one of the most colorful places in London.

- A street drummer playing with plastic drums (paint cubes), near the Thames riverside.

- A street Tap dancer, near the Thames riverside as well, but at night.

- An african origin musician, Mein-Gad-Sidjo, performing inside the "tube" (Subway) .

- Army Band performing outside the "Britain at War Museum".

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Henrik Ibsen on the cover of "L'Illustration" (March 19th 1889)

Henrik Ibsen was a famous author, less than Victor Hugo (who moved masses), but more famous, at his time (19th Century), than many playwrights we revere today. There’s no question about his presence in many social and editorial European circles, and about his position as a living national poet of Norway. Ibsen was a pretext for writing articles, reviews, critics, books (Bernard Shaw dedicated one to him, for example), and his own intellectual figure was fashionably appearing on the cover of many magazines as today we would see on “Times” or “Newsweek”.

One of those covers was the number for Saturday, March 19th 1898 of ‘L’Illustration’, which was dedicated to Ibsen, who was going to celebrate his 70th birthday. The magazine also published two articles about his work (1).

I found this ‘curiosity’ at the Lagunilla Market (a flea market) in Mexico City around 20 years ago, at the exact moment I was at the climax of learning Antonio González Cabllero’s Acting Method (2). I was 17 years old, couldn’t even read in French yet, but I was amazed by it, by the idea of owning a magazine with Ibsen on the cover, more than by knowing that it was from the same time he was alive: the magazine was went on print on March 19th and Ibsen’s birthday was on the 20th!

The articles inside are simple, without much interest, as if they hadn’t found anything really new to say about Ibsen. The author of the article (it is impossible to know his name, he only signed as ‘P.Q.’) listed the whole work of Ibsen till that moment: the last play on the list is John Gabriel Borkman, dated 1898. There is some data I could call interesting information: Ibsen is named as an author of the highest European avant-guard, and Paris, which was the city of the avant-guard par excellence, received Ibsen’s plays from the hands of ‘Théâtre Libre’ and Antoine; the article says the production for Ibsen’s plays was low budget and lots of creativity.

About the celebration of his 70th birthday, Norway and Sweden joined together to honour the playwright with ceremonies, official banquets, popular celebrations and, of course, performances of his plays. Ibsen was an important figure not only for Scandinavian countries but for all of Europe.

The engraving (a photograph of it)you are seeing in this Blog on the cover of the magazine shows an image of Ibsen with great personality: a big old man with an air of wisdom; a strong face, a firm but good-natured body. My master Antonio González Caballero used to draw parallelisms between the personality and work of the four artists who ‘propose’ the way of acting in the Theatre of Modernism (3). So, about Ibsen, he always remembered his enjoyment of the social world, his appearance, and this photograph is an example of those comments by González Caballero(4).

We should do an exercise in comparing any picture of any author with his personality and his work. I’ve already done that with many of my favorite authors and it is a surprising game, even clarifying.

Here is one photograph circulating on the Net. You will notice it was the same photographic session that we saw on the cover of L’Illustration, Ibsen is wearing the same clothes and he’s seating at the same desk, but in a different pose:

(1) About this number of L’Illustration, an antiquities site in French says:
“ L'ILLUSTRATION. N°2873 Henrik Ibsen, gravure par Thiriat. Journal Universel. 19 mars 1898. (…) Intérieur frais. 16 pages environ illustrées de nombreuses gravures noir et blanc, premier plat de couverture illustré d'une gravure. La corporation des bouchers de Limoges par De Noussanne avec gravures dans le texte (rue de la Boucherie, syndic tenant la bannière, intérieur de triperie, église des Bouchers, croix de Saint AUrélien). Un devancier de Gutenberg par M. Normand avec gravure dans le texte (fac-similé de la dernière page du Doctrinal de Gerson imprimé par Jean Brito. L'hôtel des ventes, suite par Montheuil avec gravures dans le texte et gravure pleine page d'une vente de lingerie fine. Gravure pleine page en couleurs d'Une jeune fille d'orient par P. barthot. De Courbevoie à Banghi avec la mission Marchand,suite avec gravures dans le texte dont l'adjudant Laurent dans la pirogue, photo de l'exécution de Mounounaméka...). Publicité pour l'Art Nouveau avec 4 photos de mobilier et une lampe (buffet de salle à manger, glace avec encadrement, table toilette avec carreaux artistiques..). ”
(2) Ibsen, Pirandello, Chekhov and Strindberg, are what González Caballero named "los cuatro autores propositores de las corrientes actuacionales en el teatro moderno" (the four authors who propose the acting way for Modern Theatre); so, the study of their work, their personality and their propositions (“proposiciones”) enveloped our life as acting students.
(3) I’m currently writing a Blog about Antonio González Caballero’s Acting Method:
(4) Chekhov was different, living outside the social life and only wanting to spend his time at his house in Crimea, while Ibsen’s life had continuos movement; it is known that the Norwegian author spent a big part of his daily life reading newspapers behind the windows of famous cafés where everybody could see him.

Friday, November 9, 2007

Beijing Opera (Peking Opera): Baidicheng 白帝城

Baidicheng (白帝城) is one of several Beijing operas inspired by the original text atributed to Luo Guanzhong (罗贯中) (1), the epic novel Sanguo Yanyi ( 三国演义 ) ‘Romance of three Kingdoms’. Written more than 600 years ago, the novel describes a Chinese epic (in verse) of the 2nd and 3rd Centuries when the country was divided in three kingdoms.

Baidicheng 白帝城, which literally translates as City of the white Emperor (2), sets just a short part of this novel on stage, where Liu Bei 刘备, one of the three emperors of the divided country, is defeated in a terrible battle, resulting terminally ill; the Opera finishes with Liu Bei asking (singing of course) his main assistant to go and find his son and take care of him before Liu Bei’s imminent death.

This was the first time I could ‘consciously’ see an Opera based on Sanguo Yanyi ( 三国演义 ) ‘Romance of three Kingdoms’, and differentiate it from the other sources which nourish Beijing opera.

Beijing Opera has 4 fundamental literary sources:

1- 三国演义
Sanguo Yanyi “Romance of three Kingdoms”

2- 水浒传
Shui Hu Zhuan “Water Margin” or “Outlaws of the Marsh”(3)

3- 西遊記
Xiyouji “Journey to the West” (4)

4- 封神演义
Fengshen Yanyi “Creation of the Gods” (5)

Every one of these novels is part of the popular Chinese mythology; Chinese people, even without reading the original texts, know very well their characters and heroes, and
all their adventures; there are films, cartoons, children’s tales, novels, short stories, songs, and operas which talk about those characters. So, all a Beijing opera spectator needs is just a few points of reference to place the character in one moment of the story, after some sung verses they know where the hero is and what is happening there; anything else is theatricality and aesthetic pleasure.

As in many Chinese operas, the story of Baidicheng 白帝城 is only a pretext for expressing poetry, singing and beauty within the traditional Chinese theatrical code: the opera is full of singing and one special moment (about 15 minutes long) of military battle with acrobatics and martial arts. Costumes and makeup have a very high quality level of beauty, and they are really impressive because of their colourfulness and brightness.

The opera was performed at the Chang’an Theatre in Beijing (I’ve already talked about this venue). There seemed to be a special interest in this production because of the figures performing that night; in my ignorance of Chinese opera stars I could only recognize the name and figure who played Liu Bei 刘备, Zhang Jianguo 张建国.

This time I was accompanied by a Mexican group interested in Chinese culture, among them the sinologist Flora Botton (a scholar from El Colegio de México), and Tadeo Berjón, the Mexican Consul, who could understand a little bit more of the text and the story itself. Even then their approach was still limited, first of all because they are not specialists in Chinese Opera and, even with their knowledge of Chinese language, they were not familiar with the language written there.

Most Beijing Operas were written at least a hundred years ago (some even 300 hundred years ago) and many of their texts are absolutely incomprehensible for Chinese people living today; to know the story thanks to popular mythology doesn't mean understanding the text itself. But in comparison with my last visits to Chang’an and thanks to my companions, I could understand more than usual and enjoy this performance differently. (6)

Learning how to enjoy Beijing Opera in China is only for connoisseurs, it is a world outside the modern Chinese way of life, it is indebted to the past and we have to think about history each time we are going to listen it. Even then, not always the opera and its connoisseurs allow entry to their world. Rogers Darrobers says:

“Cette société, autant que toutes les autres fermées aux étrangers, est sans doute ce que la Chine possède de plus semblable à ce que nous appelons le: “monde”; on n’y entre que par goût personnel, pour le plaisir de se divertir avec des gens d’esprit; enconre faut-il y être admis par les initiés.” (7)

I recorded two exceptional moments :

Battle Scene.

Liubei’s first Aria.

The same videos in Youtbe:



(1) Luo Guanzhong 罗贯中 (1330 - 1400) novelist and playwright, very important in the development of Chinese fiction.
(2) It could be: The Imperial white City. A simple search in Google could be the answer.
(3)Written by Shi Nai’an 施耐庵 (1296 ~ 1371).
(4)Written by Wu Cheng’en (1500–1582 ).
(5)Written by Xu Zhonglin 许仲琳 (1567-1620 ).
(6) I’m more interested in the structure of movement and in the way of learning, but of course there is no way to understand those points without the comprehension of the stories.
(8)Roger Darrobers. “Opéra de Pékin”. Éditions Bleu de Chine, Paris, 1998.

Friday, November 2, 2007

Men of Steel in Beijing: "The Beginning, The Cinema, The Forest."

Men of Steel is an Australian Theatre Company known in some parts of the world only for its first production, “The Beginning, The Cinema, The Forest” (2004). They have performed with big success in Australia (of course), the UK, Ireland and Hong Kong. Now, in Beijing, the company is part of the program at the Festival of Australian Theatre in China.

This last Saturday, October 29th,f was the company’s first performance at the "Beijing Oriental Pioneer Theatre" and, as they expected, it was a great success. Spectators laughed like children and we all ( I was there) enjoyed a little bit more than one hour of the work of three jugglers, puppeteers, magicians, players (whatever you want named them), watching how they played and created with food and kitchen utensils. An absolutely creative performance which recalled our childhood, when we played animating anything with a touch of our hands; it was a play, yes, but also a theatre play, in the strictest meaning of the phrase.

“The Beginning, The Cinema, The Forest” was simplicity at the first glimpse; however, it was also an impressive work of body creativity, pantomime, puppet theatre, object theatre and dramatic structure, and all spectators realized it from "The Beginning" (literally).

After enjoying the play and feeling happy (laughing is a therapy), I had time to meditate about comedy, about laughing and about that difficulty theoreticians have to catalogue and criticize this kind of performing works.

In this production the usual lack of permanency within the theatrical event is total; Men of Steel didn't work with any known language, their words were sounds full of meaning but not at all idea transmitters; their movements were part of one structured unity, even though not transmissible through any codification; all that was left was the 'spectator's memory', yes, once again, all that was left was what the play left in my memory.

I videotaped only a few minutes, but minutes of great fun and great visual beauty (the black foreground created a contrast with the actors' skin and, at the same time, any movement of those kitchen utensils seemed part of a 'surreal aesthetics'). Here you have around 10 minutes of the spectacle and I hope you enjoy it as much as I did.

Was this work a kind of 'dadaist game'? It could be, but I am very careful about calling it that. We were before a production which was working with infantile creative language, and there was for sure a play, but at the end they were trying to narrate three stories, and three very well structured stories: dadaism is dead the moment structure appears.

The Festival of Australian Theatre in China lasts till November the 6th 2007, and we will see more performances with objects, dance and street theatre.

The performance’s brochure reads:

Men of Steel

Hamish Fletcher
Tamara Rewse
Sam Routledge

Operator: Jared lewis

Men of Steel fuses cooking, physical theatre and intricate object puppetry in a humorous examination of the consumptive society in which we live. They had their first adventure with coockie cutters. kitchen objects and a broccoli forest in 2004. Men of Steel has since become one of Australia’s most exciting new puppet theatre companies touring internationally to Scotland, Ireland, the UK and Hong Kong.

Men of Steel in Beijing, China: The Beginning, The Cinema, The Forest. from Gustavo Thomas on Vimeo.

The following text was written after seeing the whole festival :

I would like to say that this, as the other spectacles coming to Beijing these last years, are high quality performances, but that's not true at all. Men of Steel was the most finished work from my point of view, and it is the first work of this company. What should I think about it? This Australian festival could have been named "Young Australian Theatre Festival" or "Funny Performances of Australian Theatre". I am sure that these productions are not really representative of the Australian Performing Arts; they were chosen with a specific ad hoc cultural policy matching the Cultural Policy of the new China: a theatre devoid of deep ideas and devoid of political compromise.

I have seen some great masters of dance (Pina Bausch, White Cloud of Taiwan, Alvin Ailey, etc) or Music (Berliner Philharmonic Orchestra, Lan Lang, etc.) come to Beijing , but absolutely none from the high world of Drama: you never see great companies or playwrights from the second half of the 20th century on stage.

I really miss that theatre which speaks loudly, showing the difficulties and problems we have living together in this chaotic world; I miss laughing because I saw myself or my governors in a ridiculous situation, I miss thinking about how to solve our crises, resolve our differences, our fears while I am watching actions. I miss that theatre my teachers tried to teach me and I which I have tried to do all my life.

Monday, October 29, 2007

Neil Latchman and Alessandro Belotto in an intimate concert at St. Mary's Church in Ealing.

I met Alessandro Belotto when I was living in Beirut. Since the mid 90's Alessandro has visited Lebanon almost every year, giving organ concerts for the Maronite community of that country. This Italian pianist currently lives in London, and he was one of the reasons my travel was not a total disaster; his friendship and the concert I am writing about were part of my best moments during my stay in London.

Alessandro invited me to what he called "a very short concert at the hall of St. Mary's Church in Ealing.". He would play the piano and Neil Latchman, the tenor, would sing, it would be only 5 songs.

Ealing is situated West, almost outside London; it is a quiet place, with beautiful streets and kind people; once I arrived to the city, after the train station, I started to feel the taste of a village in the province; walking through those streets on my way to the Church was a real pleasure.

St. Mary's Church is a historical sight; its site on the internet says: 'There has been a church building on this site for nearly a thousand years; excavations during the 19th century unearthed solid blocks of stone and ornamental work suggesting that a Norman building stood here.' But the current church was rebuilt and almost built anew in the 19th century, even if it now keeps the basic structure of a 17th century one. Its tower bell looks impressive in the middle of the village and from its balcony it is possible to have a wonderful view over London.

This concert was part of the schedule of some regular cultural activities the church organizes every weekend and that Saturday 29th there were more musical events in the program. There is no more interest than bringing to the community a little bit of high quality classical music; publicity lies only in the priest's voice during mass and on the church's blackboard. Neither Belotto nor Latchman charged for it.

You will notice in the videos that people walked around, some children were playing or even crying; but you must remember that it was just a Saturday afternoon (the concert was at 2 pm), whoever passed by was invited and if they were interested, then they would take a seat and would listen. It is interesting watching (and listening) how Belotto and Latchman dealt musically with that noise.

It was an unforgettable afternoon, many factors joined to make that time seem unforgettable, but the mere opportunity to listen to the voice of Latchman and Belotto's interpretation is worth for its own artistic quality.

This was the program:

St. Mary's Church, Ealing, London.
Open Day, Saturday 29th, September 2007.
14:00 hrs

Neil Latchman - Tenor

Alessandro Belotto - Piano

- Son Tutta duolo (Aria)
Alessandro Scarlatti (1660-1725)

- Non t'amo piu
Francesco Paolo Tosti (1846-1916)

- 'A Vucchela
Francesco Paolo Tosti (1846-1916)

- I'll Walk Beside You
Alan Murray (1890-1922)

- Somebody Bigger than You and I
Johnny lange (1905-2006)

- You may have noticed that these videos were not posted in Youtube, and that is because the Chinese government blocked the site many days ago. Vimeo has been a good option till now.
- There is a mistake inside the videos, it is not Alessandro Benotto, it is Alessandro "Belotto". Sorry about that.

Sunday, October 21, 2007

Coming back from London…

My long trip has finished. London was my home for one month and Amsterdam was it only for a few days.

The quality of life in such an important and big city is difficult and I come back to Beijing exhausted.

London absorbed a huge amount of energy I wasn’t used to spending: it was wasted simply because by living there. A demanding city in all senses.

I saw lots of Artistic manifestations, classic Art and contemporary Art. I saw and I learnt. My English has improved but my life and my body have suffered and I have to recover my balance; one way to do it is writing about what lived there.

In London I suffered from fear of violence, but also from fear of ‘legality’. This city has one of the fastest levels of growth in criminality in the world. People are scared of being robbed or attacked; they fear the other, because of race or origin, because of their difference. London is a ‘brutal’ city to its immigrants and ‘brutal’ to young people with dark skin too.

It is a city afraid of terrorism, and it has fallen into paranoia. I saw unjust acts of justice, violence over its own citizen only on the premise of prevention. Twice the police stopped me, I say that with sadness, only because of my appearance and nothing else.

Stopped by the police on my way to the tube station, I could see the fear on the face of the policewoman who was holding with a trembling hand a piece of paper showing those exact points under which the ‘law’ permits stopping me in any case they (the police) think it necessary. I was in a “vulnerable” zone and I had the profile of a terrorist going to do his job. The policewoman was trembling because of the fear I was a terrorist and I could detonate my bombs in that very instant, finishing with her dreams and life; I was trembling because of fear from their excessive nervousness and fear they would react the same as with a Brazilian youth a year ago, killing me. Their colleagues (all policemen) asked me, with my hands held high up: ‘do you have anything in your pockets or on your body that could harm me or my colleagues?’… They were asking me, Gustavo, a person who has really tried during the last years not to harm absolutely anyone, but they didn’t know that, they thought I was ‘suspect of being a terrorist’ who could harm not only them, but myself and dozens or hundreds of others.

It was a shock, even more so because it was the second similar situation I lived (the first one had been at the airport), only because of ‘my appearance’… Yes, it didn’t matter dressing well, showing documents, cash or credit cards; it was something beyond the idea of having a social position. It was the fear of another race and culture that my “aspect” provoked in them.

With that fear I kept living and walking day and night. I observed ‘Stops and Searches’ of black skinned people, Arabs, immigrants from Eastern Europe. I saw people fainting, one suicide attempt in the waters of the Thames, police violence over common burglars, and that horrible behavior by the common Englishman over the ‘others’. Little by little I got used to living with that, at first I thought it was infernal and then one day I started noticing the sun and the blue sky (literally, no clouds), a strange thing in London, its wonderful views and faces smiling at the pubs (English people only smile ‘naturally’ at the pubs). I met nice people, friendly, from different origins, I exchanged ideas or simple words; I spoke different languages as well practiced my English (of course), French and Italian, I spoke Chinese! … I started to live as anyone does. I visited those amazing museums and exhibition halls. I went to the theatre and I saw many high quality spectacles and performances. I enjoyed architecture and the huge possibilities for having fun. I found some new friends too.

So far, I have uploaded only two posts showing my visit to The Globe and one Korean drums performance at the Thames Festival. I have lots of videos and ideas for writing several more (about sculpture and pieces of Greek theatre inside the British Museum, concerts, three plays in performance, an exhibition, one special silent film, street theatre, etc.), we’ll see how many become reality.

Amsterdam will be another chapter.

Monday, September 24, 2007

My visit to Shakespeare's Globe.

My travel in London couldn't be complete without one visit to The Globe, the theatre where Shakespeare used to work in 16th Century. The theatre is a reconstruction of the original one, thanks to an American actor who was obsessed with seeing it rebuilt. He passed away years before the new Globe was finished but at least could know his dream was going to have a good end.

Many words should be written about it, in a while just images...

Slideshow of my visit to Shakespeare's The Globe (2007)

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Korean Drums in Thames Festival 2007

Thames Festival 2007 is the only cultural festival in London in September. It lasts only for two days (September 15th and 16th), one weekend, but is full of artistic and cultural events from all over the world and from people living in London but with very different cultural origin.

Walking on the riverside of the Thames you could find a sea of people enjoying food, dancing, buying artcrafts, and seeing performances.

This Korean Drums were performing with that particular energetic way on the stage of a theatrical square close to the Tower of London. Enjoy them!

Thursday, September 13, 2007

I'm not in Beijing

Dear friends and anyone interested in this Blog,

I'm not in Beijing now, I'll be studying in London during the next 4 weeks; I have no time to write in the usual rhythm, I hope you understand this.

Thanks to all for your comprehension

Gustavo Thomas 

Wednesday, September 5, 2007

Classic Greek Theatre Relics at Capital Museum, in Beijing.

China is living a World cultural fever, receiving every two or three months exhibitions of important cultural institutions from all over the world. This time Le Musée du Louvre and the French Government brought part of the great Classic Greek Art collection that belongs to this museum.

Dozens of ancient copies (First and Second Centuries a.C.) of important Classic Greek masterpieces were exhibited during July and August 2007 at Capital Museum in Beijing.

Many of these pieces were related to Classic Greek Theatre: small reproductions of comedy actors and masks, some amphora depicting scenes from tragedies (Aeschylus' Oresteia and Euripides' Medea), and sculpted busts of some of the greatest playwrights in ancient Greece (Sophocles, Euripides, Aristophanes).

A short but enlightening exhibition. Someone working in theatre or a theatre lover would find this experience very exciting and almost unique.

Of course I had some strange feeling watching that double bust with the heads of Aristophanes and Sophocles, or that sculpture of Euripides sitting with the list of his plays to the sides. I have to confess that I had one favorite piece, a kind of "unconscious" predilection: the amphora depicting one scene of the Tragedy of Medea, her killing one of her sons; fascinating depiction, simple, but powerful.

Thursday, August 30, 2007

Tan Dun: The Map and Paper Concert in Singapore.

Tan Dun is a Performing creator, musical composer, orchestra director, and he is Chinese. Born in Hunan, and today inhabitant and distinguished member of the New York artistic community, Tan Dun is a contemporary musician, media explorer, a seeker and a “schematic/structural madman”).

During the nineties, even while having great commercial success (even producing opera or music for film) and, motivated by another famous oriental musician (Yo-yo Ma) he tried to recover as much as possible of the living musical sources that nourished him in his childhood.

He remembers hearing a “stone-man”, a folk musician who made music with stones, music that explained the universe and was a medium to communicate with it. When he returned to talk with him, the stone-man had passed away.

Then he started to walk alone and his steps took him to draw what he called “a map”; once more his hearing drove him through memory towards small and remote Chinese villages he knew were traditional music sources, places which, at that moment, were hidden behind the “new Chinese emerging power” screen. (1) He knew there were rivers and lakes, which, in combination with human work, could sing and could make music as well.

With an ordinary video camera he filmed precious scenes of performances by traditional musicians, dancers and singers in their usual surroundings; but he was a creator, and didn’t want to store that information in a museum or an archive, he knew those videos were living music and they could take part of his new musical piece, The Map.

Tan Dun’s memories brought back to life the stone-man music; with this musical background he wrote a musical piece in the usual way, and then he mixed everything in a sublime composition with those videos he took in his natal rural China.

The Map

I first watched on TV that marvelous documentary about the creation process of The Map and the special performance in Fenghuang when I was living in Lebanon. I was fascinated by the melodies and musical pieces Tan Dun explored. I thought he was looking for ghosts, souls who through singing and music offered secrets to anyone who wanted to listen, and he listened.

Some time after that experience I bought the video and had the chance to observe carefully every aspect of this “musical act”, enjoying it completely. I memorized how he achieved that moment (the performance in Fenghuang); how he united the highest technology with his most ancient China; I memorized how he brought that overpowering media technology where there wasn’t even electricity. Hundreds of special guests from the central government, bureaucrats, intellectuals, etc. came to Fenghuang and mixed with those unimportant people from Chinese minorities; Television broadcasted live united them with the world. I memorized also how those traditional musicians and singers, now spectators, watched themselves in those videos, at the concert, becoming part of Tan Dun’s piece.

When living in China and planning my trip to Singapore for the Singapore Arts Festival 2007, I saw The Map and Paper Concerto was among the special events and I was shocked: would I miss it?

Before that special concert I could see some others performances, like “Optical Identity” by T’ang Quartet and Theatre Cryptic and “Dreaming of Kuanyin Meeting Madonna” by Mark Chan and Arts Fission. Then on July the 3rd, Tan Dun and the Singapore Philharmonic Orchestra performed at the Esplanade.

The Esplanade Concert Hall is one of the most important theaters of the world, because of its superb architecture and the quality of anything performed there. Tan Dun did very little to change the usual stage: the orchestra, the orchestra director’s place and soloist’s place were at the usual area; two middle sized video screens hanging over the stage; two large paper strips, hanging at both sides of the stage; and part of the lateral box on the second floor had special seats for around 6 musicians. The Concert Hall was almost full to capacity with expectant spectators. It seemed that many of them knew about this famous composer. Applauses, silence, and then, music.

The Map’s premiere was in Boston in February 2003, but it had its first memorable performance in November of the same year in Fenghuang Ancient Village, Xiangxi, China (the video I talked about was made during that performance). This work, from my point of view, reached its highest value for being a concert performed in that place (the Chinese village), at that moment (2003) and for that people (the spectators of that evening); there, it was an event totally full of life and it was enormous. It was overpowering in all senses. But the same “musical piece” in that concert at the Esplanade in Singapore in June 2007, without those spectators, without the place itself, was only a “strange piece” of bits of traditional Chinese music mixed with Western music in an interesting balance, at moments nice, at moments alive. That evening, we, the spectators, were only that, some western educated people honoring a great Chinese composer and having fun with his famous and rare musical work. We were helping to rescue the Chinese tradition, as in a museum.

That evening at the Esplanade, technology didn’t go to an inhospitable village to create a media fantasy; this time, it was some data in video format, coming from remote China, performed in the middle of a technological kingdom. As spectators we were enthusiastic, as was expected from people who attended a great concert of a great figure in a great art festival. But that evening something was missing.

I firmly believe that the worth of The Map lies in its being a “contemporary performative musical piece”, which only achieves its highest value as a temporary “Performing Media Art” and with the support of its creative process: that concert in Fenghuang in 2003 was not a simple concert, it was a “performative act” including Tan Dun’s musical piece, but also using Tan Dun’s spatial and theatrical concept.

In Singapore I was seated listening to a musical concert; then, I decided to listen the music. I’m not a musical connoisseur, I only enjoy listening, and this work was enjoyable but nothing else.

Paper Concerto

The Paper Concerto came after several other explorations by Tan Dun with his Chinese sources (among others, traditional music in The Map, and music of the elements in the Water Concerto). Now, he literally made music with paper.

The concept of paper is linked to the relationship between China and the world; in China, paper is linked with the sound it has and its expressiveness; Chinese life has listened to its paper for centuries. Tan Dun, as a good Chinese artist, was open to listening to it, he assimilated that sound, he sublimated it and then he created a “western style” concert in 4 movements.

The Paper Concerto was written for that kind of stage where we listened to it (and where we saw it): a common concert hall stage; and it worked perfectly on it. It reached, from my point of view, the magnitude of epic music.

Where others would make (and have made) sounds manipulating paper or cardboard and just using rhythms and jugglery, Tan Dun makes a really high musical work, a well done concert, and a real act of movement. Tan Dun is a great musician but he is also an important performing artist, I have no doubts about it. (2)

Long white paper strips, Chinese paper, to touch, to beat, and bits of paper to crumple and whistle; paper which is seen and is heard; sound that makes us vibrate and then arrives to our hearing as sublime.

Tan Dun worked with the whole western musical background he has acquired, and then mixed it with that paper sound held in his memories; then, that western music (now old) was renovated and refreshed, it got life and power. That music was also visual. Those three percussionists danced, they were living a musical body action.

Tan Dun made moving music on the stage, however his western musicians didn’t move from their seats. (3)

The Paper Concerto in Singapore was a successful performance, it was a high value artistic act and was absolutely enjoyable. Its creator, Tan Dun, has now in me a respectful admirer.

There is no recorded material about this event. The Singapore Festival didn’t permit taking photographs inside or outside the concert hall. Even when Tan Dun was giving autographs security officers were stopping any attempts to take video or photos, even though it was in front of the cafeteria!

I found some links to Tan Dun’s official Web site and one video uploaded in Youtube.

Tan Dun’s Web site:

(1) Since the eighties China has lived an astounding transformation, as well as a massive destruction of its reservoirs of traditional customs. Those remote and forgotten villages now live surrounded by concrete, pollution and “progress”, some of them have been converted into tourist sights where life has been annihilated and only money leads. The Han people, the majority of Chinese but also those who manage China, see Chinese minorities only as a touristic interest, as conquerors visiting those places as part of their conquest, looking for a showcase-moment of different customs. The central government has catalogued every minority, every village, every custom, every costume, every traditional performing art, and put them on touristic sale; that has only served to draw them out of their natural context: people sang while working, now they sing because tourists pay for it; who performed a ritual theatre now has a permanent stage and a schedule of performances with little care about the traditional ritual schedule; ancient villages full of life are rebuilt (which is good, of course) and villagers relocated to the outskirts, some of them being employed as “traditional villagers” doing the “traditional works” they used to do before the relocation. Chinese from big cities love visiting theme parks that reproduce world architecture and customs, some with reproductions of Venice or Paris or of the Mexican pyramids, so, these remote villages are just one extension of those Chinese theme parks.
Tan Dun studied and worked as a Beijing Opera actor during the Cultural Revolution years.
Perhaps T’ang Quartet and Cryptic Theatre could understand more about his exploration if they watched carefully the work of this Chinese artist.

Monday, August 27, 2007

Two videos about "Moon Water" performance...

Some short videos I found in Youtube about "Moon Water" performance by Cloud Gate Dance Company from Taiwan. (1)

First an URL, cause it is not possible to post the video in here:

This video was posted by a Chinese youtuber:

(1) Post: 7/18/07

Friday, August 24, 2007

Mei Lanfang Hand Gestures. Part 2.

Mei Lanfang hand gestures (Slideshow)

Here a new version of "Mei Lanfang hand gestures video"; this occasion only photographs of those amazing hands, without text in Chinese or motion images. I thought It was important posting this special slideshow just to appreciate on detail those hand gestures Mei Lanfang used to do on stage.

Every photograph is taken from Chinese books. Mei Lanfang, the great Chinese Opera actor had pictures taken of each of his gestures, even hands, face and eyes, looking for establishing a document record for future generations of actors. Many of these gestures were created by Mei Lanfang, including those for moments usually devoid of gesture, or where he dared (as, from the traditional Oriental point of view, it was viewed as daring) to change something that had been done by actors for generations.

Add a vintage film with two short scenes mixed, Mei working with his hands without costume and with costume:

Today those gestures are part of Beijing Opera actors' repertory and they perform them at the same place and in the same way Mei used to do it.

The first version of this video was posted on July 22th 2007: Beijing Opera: Mei Lanfang hand's gestures

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

“OSCURIDAD”: a Recall


With: Marisol Solorio y Francisco Camacho

Text and direction by Gustavo Thomas

Produced by Esférica Ludens, Compañía de Arte Representacional.

Premiere: Sunday, August 18th 2002, at the "Caravana de Ecatepec” Festival,Estado de Mexico, Mexico.

About the play

“Oscuridad” was Esférica Ludens’s fourth and best developed work, a result of the exploration of acting techniques that the company had been doing since 1998.

Esférica Ludens had staged four works: Letanía (1998), Tríptico Telefónico (1999), Inhalaciones (2000) and “Entremeses Cervantinos” (2001). Each play had been a direct evolution of one way of approaching drama and acting techniques, and every performance by Esférica Ludens was one step towards the growth of the company.

Work by work we progressed in our exploration and in the use of different acting techniques chosen by the director: González Caballero’s Acting Method, Stanislavski’s Physical Actions Method and Eugenio Barba’s Theatre Anthropology’s Physical Principles.

Our scripts were written initially based on known drama works and then altered during the creative process of every work. That is how “Oscuridad” evolved, along a line of learning; it was a work based on the performer’s work.

The theme arose from our readings of “Le Misanthrope” by Molière and “Les liasons dangereuses” by Laclos. Then the actors created series of physical actions (about 500), the playwright found, during that process, the words that would match his script (at the end a 5000 word text), and the director combined those actions and words into an 80 minute performance.

The play happens in one space and one time, following Aristotle’s principles. There is no scenography other than one table, one chair, two candles working as “stage light”, and nothing else. The year is 1612, we’re awaiting Louis XIV’s death, at a basement of the Palais de Versailles. Our characters are borrowed from Molière’s and Laclos`s works but they are our contemporaries, they think like many of us.

It is an eclectic piece: it combines styles and ways of creating (both avant-garde and classical), without a defined space and time even though space and time exist within the story.

“Oscuridad” was Esférica Ludens’ fourth work in a six-stage plan. It should have been followed by “Invocación” (staging process remained unfinished) and “Misterio” (which remains just a script).


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