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:
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Gustavo Thomas. Get yours at