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Cafe Hopper @ 老舍 [茶馆]

The stage craft of this play was simply excellent. When the curtain was drawn, the buzzing and hustle of the teahouse was felt and we could even smell the breathe in the smell of old teahouse in Beijing. Simply loving the stage. Ok, back to what I feel about the play or my reflection after watching it. I always think that if at the core of art is not human, then art is not art at all. To me all forms of art have to be about people. We cannot move away from this anthropological mission. To me, 老舍 Teahouse is all about people, common people to be specific.

The theme that I keep seeing from the play is that of time. The theme move from the late Qing dynasty when people were concern about the coming of the westerners asked the reformation and modernization that were taking place. Then in Act 2, the play move from the late Qing period to the warlords period or 军阀混战的时代 . The post Japanese occupation period sets Act 3. In all of these three acts, we see the movements and sentiments of common people, people like you and,me. We struggle, we fight to meet ends needs, we change and constantly make changes to fit ourselves to this society. More still, we constantly hope for a better world to come.

The same characters, the same teahouse, from one period in history to another, they hope for a better future, a world with less poverty, less turmoil, less suffering. Sadly, it didn’t happen to the main three characters in this play write. In Act 1, there was the hope of a better future when the westerners came in and everyone was talking about reforms and changes. The reforms did not take place, churches were burnt down and huge sum of money meant for reforms ended up in somebody’s pockets. In Act 2, no more Qing emperor, no more corrupted officials but came the warlords. They hurled bombs and bullets all over just to have a greater share of whatever that was left. The people continued to hope, hope to be better. However, the better things didn’t happen and the poor remained poor. In Act 3, the same people and the same teahouse, the people continued to hope. However, this period of China was only left with the internal strife between the KMT and CCP. At the last scene, we saw the three main casts philosophizing about the society they were living in. 

I was struck by one statement that 老掌柜 said in Act 3, “这茶馆是我的。活也在这里,死也在这里.” This is the sentiment of many in today’s society I believe. This coffeeshop, this town center, this public housing, this community… we live and we die here. It’s these places that connect lives together…It’s these places that chain and bind us together. In the show, it’s the teahouse that connects all the characters together…They talked here, they sell their daughter here, they do their dirty things here, they see changes here and etc. 小小的茶馆带出了人的喜怒哀乐,爱恨情仇。它也带初了人生百态,社会的起落!Another statement that struck me was this, “我们这么爱国家,国家有爱我们吗?” This was said by 常四爷 who used to be a rich man but was imprisoned by the Qing government for spreading messages on the fall of the dynasty which eventually did happened.

The story ended with all three main characters, namely, 秦二爷, 老掌柜 and 常四爷, lamenting over the despair and failures of the country’s development all these years. Eventually 老掌柜 decided to end his life and this coincide with the entrance of the Red Liberation Army led by the Chinese Communist Party.

The Gatekeeper

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Cafe Hopper @ Rice (稲禾)by 云门舞集 (Cloud Gate)

I was contemplating whether to use Mandarin for this post or English. Eventually I decided to use English for the post. I set out this year to watch at least one art performance per month for the year 2015. Why? I needed to find inspiration for my poetry writing and hopefully I will be able to publish a poetry collection by the end of the year. Ok, yes, I am working very slowly but I hope I will be able to accomplish this by this year. Let’s keep my finger cross. Rice is my third show for the year and contrary to the general impression of abstractness of this dance group, I find it easier to comprehend than the previous show I watched. The dance piece began with a beautifully crafted and coordinated earth colours from the dancers’ attire. I personally have a soft spot for earth colours. Unlike most dance pieces which has to dance alongside with music, this one began in the absence of musical piece. It began with the rhythm of earth or 大地的心跳. Each thump on the dancers’ feet awakens the heart of our soul…it awakens our senses and invoke our spirit to listen and to feel the life of this earth or 大地的生命. I quietly listened…I silently pondered.

I love the section on Pollen 1 and 2 the most. In these two sections, the dancers wished to express the pollination of crops, birthing forth life in the rice field. The dance portray a couple, from the surface, they seem like they are making love in the paid field…but I seriously think that’s what the choreographer wishes to portray. Making love or having sex is our human way of pollination. Similarly, crops pollinate and birth forth life…birth forth new hope and dreams in the process. However, this life is not complete without the nurturing of the sunlight and the nutrients from the ground or from nature. 生命是要用大自然的灌溉才能萌芽的! So very often, we are caught up with the modern and post-modern crisis of human existence that we forgot that at the most basic, we are mere sons and daughters of nature or 大自然之子女。I love this portrayal of pollination and the birthing of life.

After the great harvest, the land needs renewal. However, often, renewal comes only after a baptism of fire. The farmers would burn down the harvested land and the land will go through a period of purging and cleansing by fire. Thus, don’t despise the fire and don’t shun away from the burning. It is often necessary and essential for the land of our heart or 心田 to be renewed and revived. The dance piece ended with the return of water to the land and once more the cycle of life wheeling and re-wheeling.

I am not a dancer and thus I will not be able to say too much about the technicality of the dance piece but I do feel that the dancers have successfully brought out the essence of what the choreographer wishes to convey to the audience and its easy to know where the dance piece is leading us to.

Oh…just in case you thought that the blog has evolved into an art blog…no…no…no…its still a cafe blog…Art and Coffee are another pair of perfect partners…..

The Gatekeeper

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Cafe Hopper @ 红楼梦 What is Sex? directed by 林奕华 Edward Lam

I would like to quote from the programme booklet, “This is not a theatre that gives you an account of the plot of Dream of the Red Chamber or 红楼梦. It consists of dreams by the characters in the story, as well as the dreams of modern man. These dreams date from Cao Xueqin’s time to 2015, perhaps even into the foreseeable future.” What Edward Lam attempts to portrait are the dreams that were dreamed about by the characters of Dream of the Red Chamber and he continue to see these dreams being dreamed about by modern man today. The dream to be loved and to love, the dream of materialism and secularism, the dream of what is real and what is unreal. What do we all have dream? We have dreams because there is always that deep void within us and this void longs to to be and be. There is this existential twist in Edward Lam’s interpretation of the Chinese classic. When we see the Others, we very often see our dreams fulfilled in them. Thus, in this case in Scene 2, we have a clash between Wang Xifeng and Ping-er. However, what Edward Lam wants to express is the lack in both characters and how they see each of their lack being fulfilled in each other. So is it Ping-er who dreams of Wanf Xifeng or Wang Xifeng who dreams of Ping-er?

There is also a scene, Scene 3 (Mayhem in School), that talks about our dream of an ideal education system. In the story, the Jia family set up their own school to educate the people whom they deemed suit for education. Eventually, in the drama, the whole education system crumbled into pieces and resulting in an education system that produces people who are materialistic and extremely pragmatic. Such is a tragic of our modern society. Our education is doing more harm to our mind than to build it up. We have developed a system of education that centers so much about self and we have lost touch of communal values.

So throughout the show, Edwards Lam uses the various key scenes from the Red Chamber to depict various aspects of human issues and crisis. The 大观园 is certainly not a place to find solution. It is a place where we see a reflection of ourselves and what is real. Very often, we what deem as real is unreal and simply a visage. Thus, through the interaction between the various characters, the subconscious mind of each individuals emerged and surfaced as a cruel reality they have to face. For instant, Scene 15, where You Sanjie fell in love with Liu Xianglian despite the improbability of a requited love. “In the end, Liu Xianglian is nothing but a mirage, and Sanjie’s suicide after the return of the betrothal gifts becomes a rude awakening.”

The fact of the matter is that there are many of such characters similar to those in the story in our lives. They are real and they exist among us…they stand helpless, confused, despaired, lost and certainly living in bad faith. They are so filled with angst of the reality of living. Thus, to many, their dreams remained unfulfilled and their dreams remain as dreams. There’s so much to say about Edward Lam’s depiction of the Chinese classics and and his attempt to answer the question of what is sex or to be precise what life is? Sex to Edward is not sexual. Sex is an integral part of life and thus to relook at sex is to relook at our life. The modern men and those in the characters of Red Chamber, focus too much on sexual rather than sex. Sexual is passive passion with no love. However, sex is the genuine demands for love.

If you have missed this interesting interpretation of  Red Chamber, I am sure you will have the chance to do it. To me, the depiction of each character has become a reflection of apart of myself. As an audience, I can see a little part of my dream and aspiration in each of the characters depicted. Its reflective and meditative.

Oh yah…I got a prosperity bag watching the show! Happy Chinese New Year to all my readers!

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The Gatekeeper