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September 29, 2010

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Staging 'Tempest' in a circus ring

THE Shanghai Drama Arts Center collaborates extensively with overseas troupes in experimental theater. One is Shakespeare's "The Tempest' staged as a multimedia circus show. Michelle Zhang tells us more.

The Tempest" starring "The Queen" Helen Mirren as Prospera the wizard will only hit silver screens worldwide in December.

But a "circus performance" stage adaptation of Shakespeare's masterpiece will have its world premiere on October 15 at the Shanghai Drama Arts Theater.

The latest version of the classic - which doesn't rely on words and dialogue - is presented by artists from both China and Denmark and directed by Giacomo Ravicchio, Italian artistic director of the Copenhagen-based Meridiano theater company.

It is "a circus performance with clowns, acrobats, contortionists, magicians and ringmasters" rather than "a wordy play," says Ravicchio, who is also a co-producer of what is arguably the last play Shakespeare wrote alone.

"Circus and ships hang together in my version of 'The Tempest'," he says. "In my eyes, mariners and circus artists have so much in common.

Circuses and ships always come from far away, they are always traveling and they have solid ropes to moor and anchor themselves with - otherwise, they will be mercilessly carried away by the tempest."

Few props are used. Instead, multimedia techniques create the setting of the magical island.

"An island is a mystical place," Ravicchio says. "There is almost always magical power to be found on an island, which leads us to dig deep after the most precious treasure of them all; that which is hidden deep down in our very own soul."

Also, the use of different styles and forms of theater, including body theater, multimedia, acrobatics and magic tricks, help reduce language barriers.

The play will be performed in English with Chinese subtitles. After the Shanghai premiere, the play will tour Denmark next January.

The international cast features renowned artists from both countries, including popular Danish TV/movie stars Tommy Kenter and Lars Knutzon, the "clown orchestra" from Copenhagen-based Batida Theater and those from Shanghai Drama Arts Center and Shanghai Acrobatic Troupe.

Shanghai acrobats will stage challenging "sky flies" to express the love between Princess Miranda and Prince Ferdinand. Actors will be like players from a circus caravan - expect a magician, a spirit that flies like an acrobat and a wild man who moves like a human snake.

"Many of them with their roots in the commedia dell'arte, the traditional Italian theater of masks," Ravicchio says.

Joint projects

In recent years, the Shanghai Drama Arts Center has collaborated extensively with overseas theater troupes to create experimental productions blending Chinese and Western cultural elements.

"Re-orientation," which made its debut in London's West End last month, is a joint creation of the Shanghai theater and UK's Border Crossings, France's a Fleur de Peau, India's Kalakadamba Art Center and Sweden's Teater Eksem. It will be staged in Shanghai next week.

The main plot centers on the suicide of a young girl in Shanghai, which prompts her mother, who left the family for India years ago, to re-visit Shanghai; another story is the relationship between a young boy and a Swedish actress in Shanghai.

As the two stories intertwine, different cultural fragments are woven into the plot and displayed on stage.

According to The Times, the two-hour multi-lingual production tells "intersecting stories set against a backdrop of hectic, often striking visuals." It is also the first Chinese play to debut in London's West End.


Date: October 5-17 (closed on Monday), 7:30pm

Tickets: 100-200 yuan

In multi-languages with Chinese and English subtitles

"The Tempest"

Date: October 15-24, 7:30pm

Tickets: 120-200 yuan

In English with Chinese subtitles

Venue: Shanghai Drama Arts Theater, 288 Anfu Rd

Tel: 6473-0123


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