A few weeks ago, I had the rare pleasure of seeing a collaboration between two of the companies I’ve been working with here. I had just come back to Beijing from my trip to Europe and Liu Laoshi from the Summer Palace troupe mentioned he was doing a performance near Xisi on Saturday. “Do you know Han Chi?” he asked.
“Of course, wait – why?”
“‘Cause I’m puppeteering for them”.
I had no idea they knew each other, but then again, why not? It’s like any society of enthusiasts, the smaller the group – the tighter the network.
I showed up early to the theatre and met Han Chi in the alleyway. She led my friend and I backstage into the green room area. It was great to see both Han Chi and her brother and Liu Laoshi all in the same place. They were obviously readying themselves for the show, so I headed onstage to check out the set up.
A gorgeous and sturdy three panelled shadow screen welded out of aluminum was taking court upstage. Behind it, an impressive collection of some of the most beautifully designed modern shadow puppets I’ve seen to date. Many of these puppets I’d seen in the design phase – what a joy to see them waiting in the wings for their moment onstage.
As we took our seats, more friends joined us and the audience started to buzz with people of all ages. Picture taking and filming during the performance was not allowed, so I happily sat back and became a pure spectator. Soon the lights dimmed and the performance began.
The production was a mix of live actors, shadow puppetry and dance. Hanfeizi is certainly pushing the limits of shadow puppetry integration – some new conventions work and some don’t – but the show was entirely enjoyable. It’s clear they’re carving out a new genre for shadow puppetry to explore here in China.
The puppets are a spot on blend of older Northeastern style and a modern aesthetic – all hand cut out of handmade leather hides. Gorgeous, on and off screen.
I was most happy to see explorations mixing live actors with shadow puppets simultaneously, using shadow representatives of live actors and creative transitions between live actor and shadow scenes. As I begin to see the divide between traditional and modern shadow puppetry more clearly, I am more and more assured that there needs to be more work integrating them together if shadow puppetry is to remain a relevant art form into this millennium.
This show was certainly a step in that direction.
Congratulations to Hanfeizi and Liu Laoshi and the entire team. (Thanks to Sylvie for the use of her pictures!)
Additional performances on August 21st in Beijing: Check it out! 10:30am and 7:30pm. No reservations needed – You can get tickets at the door; 80元， 100元， 120元.
At Theatre Dizhi Buli Tang in Central Beijing: Map Below (Just SW of the Xisi Subway stop on Line 4)
Southwest Exit from Subway Stop. Walk west on Yangrou Hutong (literally, Mutton Hutong) about 200 ft. Theatre is on the south side of the street.
Thanks for reading!~