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November 4, 2010

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From mime and melodrama to musicals

SHANGHAI is awash in whodunits and light comedies about young professionals seeking money and love. But serious fare is on offer in an international theater festival opening Saturday. Michelle Zhang reports.

For those who want a change from always-popular detective stories and light comedies, the upcoming Shanghai International Contemporary Theater Festival offers melodrama, mime, musicals and a light take on Moby Dick.

The 14-play festival opens on Saturday and runs through December 2 at the Shanghai Drama Arts Theater. The plays, both foreign and Chinese, also include one-man shows, physical theater and a range of comedies and dramas.

"We'd like to introduce some top-quality contemporary theater works and show the audience the beauty of theatrical arts - how diverse, innovative and powerful it can be," says program director Alex Wu from Shanghai Drama Arts Center.

A highlight will be the showcase of classic plays performed by veteran actors from around the world. Among them is Israeli film star and author Gila Almagor Agmon, who will stage her signature theater piece "The Summer of Aviya" adapted from her namesake bestseller from 1985. The autobiographical novel was translated into many languages and has been republished 43 times in Israel.

The one-man show is a memoir of Agmon's childhood - her mother is a Holocaust survivor and her father died four months before she was born. Her warm, loving and fiercely independent mother, Henya, is tortured by periodic mental breakdowns. It provides insights into Israeli society in the early post-state period back in the 1950s.

In 1989, the book was adapted into a film, with Agmon playing her own mother. It has won the Silver Bear award for best actress at the Berlin Film Festival and Agmon has won various other awards.

The stage is almost empty. There is only a table, a chair, a box and some small, simple objects.

"I know I'm the only person that could play my mom," Agmon says. "It was a great challenge for me. Before I wrote the book, I had never talked to people about my mom or my childhood. However, when I was 40, I was inspired all of a sudden to write it down and my long-time burden has been released since.

"It (my life) is like attending a competition. I won, all by myself. I didn't give up, I'm exhausted, but I won," she says.

"The Life and Times of Louis I. Kahn," a work of "multimedia architectural music theater" stars veteran Hong Kong actor Kam Kwok-leung, who is known as the "godfather of Hong Kong TV series."

It explores the legendary life of Kahn, one of the most famous architects of the last century.

The stage features a speech hall, in which Kam plays the old Louis I. Kahn. It starts with Mozart's "Piano Sonata K. 281," which, according to Mathias Woo, executive director of the foremost arts group Zuni Icosahedron, is "very much like the work of Louis Kahn" - not so strong, but full of structures and features "a sense of space."

"I have always wanted to develop a series of performances on architects and architecture," Woo says. "I think that theater is a very appropriate medium to discuss and explore architecture because, just like architecture, theater itself is composed of and defined by space, light and sound.

"I chose Louis Kahn because I really like him, and his works and his philosophy on creativity enlighten me greatly," he adds.

He believes that Kahn's theories help people understand the relationships among architecture, architects and society.

Original music for the play was composed by famous Hong Kong musician Jason Choi. "I am experimenting with a very pure and fundamental stage language," he says. "Space, lighting, video and sounds are the main characters of the performance. Sounds and lighting affect our feelings toward space - what Louis Kahn said about silence and light."

Beijing avant-garde director Meng Jinghui will bring to Shanghai his latest musical involving three love stories, "The Love for Three Oranges."

Created by Meng and some of the country's best independent musicians, the play is performed by young actors who not only sing and dance, but also play various instruments. Some have mastered two instruments in less than two months.

"It is a dream for every musician to sing, dance, act and play music all at the same time," says composer Zhang Weiwei. "Meng is such a genius director that he has created this innovative way of performing - a brand-new style of musical."

The simple set features gray walls, veils and chairs in various shapes.

Meng concludes the play in a few words: "If he doesn't love you, there will always be other people who love you. If he hasn't hurt you, there will always be other people who hurt you."

These words are featured in the lyrics of the theme song.

Another one-man show, "Moby Dick," is adapted from the namesake novel by Herman Melville. It is a classic tale about a mythic white whale and a vengeful captain who tries to hunt it down.

Irish actor Conor Lovett depicts it in a mischievous and humorous way. The play features original music on fiddle, viola and Irish bagpipes.

Apart from musicals and one-man performances, there will also be physical theater works "Boxes" by Japan's Store House Company, "Wormhole" by students from Shenzhen University, and "Empty Hands" by Korea's Theater Momzit.

Shanghai Repertory Theater Company, Shanghai's first English-language theater company, will re-stage one of its recent works, "Drift," a play about three generations of Chinese migrating to Singapore, their lives, thoughts, and spirits.

"The Love for Three Oranges"

Date: November 6-7, 7:30pm

Tickets: 150-280 yuan

Performed in Chinese without subtitles


Date: November 9-10, 7:30pm

Tickets: 120-280 yuan

Performed in English with Chinese subtitles

"Fu Chen"

Date: November 11-28, 7:30pm

Tickets: 50-200 yuan

Performed in Chinese without subtitles

"The Summer of Aviya"

Date: November 13-15, 7:30pm

Tickets: 50-280 yuan

Performed in Hebrew with Chinese subtitles


Date: November 17-18, 7:30pmTickets: 50-280 yuan

Performed in Chinese without subtitles

"New Year's Eve"

Date: November 19-21, 7:30pm

Tickets: 50-280 yuan

Performed in Chinese without subtitles

"Moby Dick"

Date: November 20-21, 7:30pm

Tickets: 50-280 yuan

Performed in English with Chinese subtitles

"The Life and Times of Louis I. Kahn"

Date: November 23-24, 7:30pm

Tickets: 50-280 yuan

Performed in English with Chinese and English subtitles

"Empty Hands"

Date: November 23-24, 7:30pm

Tickets: 50-280 yuan

No dialogue

"Das Rad des Cluck"

Date: November 25-26, 7:30pm

Tickets: 50-280 yuan

Performed in German with Chinese subtitles

"The Ancient Mariner"

Date: November 26-28, 7:30pm

Tickets: 50-280 yuan

Performed in English with Chinese subtitles


Date: November 27-28, 7:30pm

Tickets: 50-280 yuan

No dialogue

"Das Kapital"

Date: December 1, 7:30pm

Tickets: 50-380 yuan

Performed in Chinese without subtitles

"The Unexpected Guest"

Date: December 2, 7:30pm

Tickets: 50-120 yuan

Performed in Chinese without subtitles

Venue: Shanghai Drama Arts Theater, 288 Anfu Rd

Tel: 6473-0123


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