After returning to Beijing a few days ago, I paid a return visit to the company of Little People at the Yuanming Yuan Park (also known as the Summer Palace). I’ll be studying performance techniques with them daily after I return from Tangshan next week. After publishing my initial blog about this troupe, I got requests for clarification. I think my desire to be politically correct made my description ambiguous.
The company at Yuanmingyuan is comprised entirely of dwarves. All of them are 17 years or older and most come up to my waist. They come from all over the country, drawn by an opportunity for gainful employment and a chance to live in a community with like-sized people. In pictures, they resemble children, but if you talk to them in person, they indeed carry with them the poise and experience that betray their outer appearance. All of them, ALL of them, are highly accomplished puppeteers or studying to become thus.
I had a confusing time finding them this time around because they’ve moved their theatre about 500 yards to the east side of the south gate at the Summer Palace. For newcomers, the theatre is much easier to find at the new location, but still housed in a shapeless hull of a cement block.
They’ve added a gift shop (I’m absolutely buying t-shirts before I leave) that leads upstairs to the new theatre. The big museum that used to precede the theatre entrance is now just a few framed pictures and one small diorama in the center.
Liu Laoshi, their incredibly adept teacher, is always present to guide – perfecting their new moves and sequences whenever possible. He is constantly training in new puppeteers for as the more experienced puppeteers rotate up for more advanced roles.
He ran me around to their workshop room just before their performance started.
These puppets are simplistic compared to the cutting style in Shaanxi, but you can see here that design and color is most important. The northeastern area of China places its emphasis on performance and less on the aesthetic. Trust me, once they’re moving – you aren’t focusing on the cuts.
Today, the boys were taking a rest after some hefty rehearsal on their new adaptation of the White Snake legend, so the ladies held down the fort. Doing everything from running tech, emcee’ing, puppeteering and even clean up. Testing microphones 5 minutes before showtime.
They’ve got a new show in the first slot – a cartoon-like story of Rabbit and Cat friends, but the rest is largely the same. They, luckily, have kept their cheesy introduction and transitions between shows and have kept the middle interactive dance number where audience members go backstage to puppeteer to the latest pop number. It’s all very good fun.
I’ll be back in a week to begin my study in performance and Beijing style cutting (which is arguably the same as Tangshan style).
Thanks for reading~