For the last couple weeks, I’ve been getting myself back into the Beijing swing of things. I love this city. Having first visited in 1996 with a high school semester abroad, it was a shock to land here again in 2008. It was easy to be disgusted by the modernization and change, but after using Beijing as a home base throughout the year – I’ve fallen in love with it again. It’s an amazing combination of old and new China, a harrowing crash and mash of everything past and everything coming.
After settling in for a few days, seeing my friends, eating a chunk of cheese and washing it down with a bit of real red wine, I was ready to dive back into work. I had come back to Beijing to observe the Taiwan puppet company, Taiyuan, collaborate with the Beijing Shadow Troupe. The rehearsals were back at the Tianqiao theatre, where I had first studied with the Beijing Shadow Troupe. I felt like I was on old turf.
Just a few minutes into the first rehearsal, I could see that the collaboration resembled Beijing itself. A true and beautiful negotiation of old making room for the new and the new bringing the old with it. To see such a progressive puppet company working alongside a preservation company was educational and encouraging.
The rehearsals are in mid-stage. Artistic Directors, Robbie and Shanshan have been working on this production for quite sometime. While spearheaded from Taiwan, the final show will include collaborations with both Mainland Chinese and Turkish shadow puppet groups.
The shadow set up included a large-scale puppet screen and light placed center stage and a smaller, more traditional, screen, downstage left. The action transfers from the two screens, incorporating live actors and their shadows into the story telling vocabulary.
I’m not sure how it’s happened, but throughout my yearlong journey, it often seems that I’m at the right place at the right time. That somehow, the universe knows what I need to see next and serves it up on a platter. I’m funded to produce a shadow puppet show in Minnesota this coming spring and throughout the past 4 months, I’ve been churning and working through ideas as best I can while on the road. To see the company rehearse, see their process and see them actively solve shadow problems was perfectly timed.
It’s also great to see this kind of collaboration happening. Not just a traditional troupe trying to survive nor a modern troupe reinventing the shadow puppet wheel, but both of them working together to finesse the collision together. Proving Paula Abdul right: opposites not only attract but they can play nicely together, too.
If you’re in Taiwan in February, check them out at Taiwan 2012 International Arts Festival in Taipei.