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November 13, 2009

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Drama with a difference

CUTTING-EDGE international theater productions and innovative local performances are highlights of the 5th Shanghai International Contemporary Theater Festival, which starts on Sunday.

In less than one month, theater companies from eight countries, including Canada, Austria, Denmark, Singapore and Japan, will stage 13 plays of various genres.

The annual festival presents the latest developments and experiments in theater arts around the world.

"To most Chinese audiences, 'theater' equals 'drama,' which is wrong," says Huang Yiping from the Shanghai Drama Arts Center, the organizer. "Through the event, we show the much wider concept of 'theater' that involves all kinds of performances from musicals to physical theater."

There will be musicals, monologues, puppetry, physical theater, dance theater as well as original drama plays.

In "Unbound" by Canada's Wen Wei Dance Group, Chinese Canadian Wang Wenwei explores ideals of beauty in a performance involving three men and three women. It begins with reflections of the old Chinese practice of binding women's feet in pursuit of status and an impossible erotic ideal.

"When I grew up in China there were still women, including my grandmother, whose feet were bound in the old Chinese tradition," Wang recalls. "I didn't think much about bound feet, regarding it as a custom of the distant past, until I visited a shoe museum in Toronto where a special Chinese historical exhibition of shoes designed for bound feet was on display."

Wang arranged a Chinese Opera Workshop later, asked the female dancers to try on "three inch lotus shoes" - shoes worn by female Chinese opera performers to make their feet appear to be bound, and he was fascinated by the way they moved.

"The center of balance was changed considerably and the adjustments required to maintain balance meant that I should choreograph in a different way," he says.

Without conscious reference to male/female relationships, he proceeded in a purely abstract way to compose a work for three men and three women in various gender combinations. The play transcends its cultural origins to unravel sexuality, emotions and relationships that are universally similar.

The festival also features a puppet show for adults, "Twice Upon A Time" by Austria's Karin Schafer Figuren Theater.

The show begins as questions are asked: what if puppets discover that they have no life? What if puppets find out that there is somebody above them, somebody that "has all the strings in her hands"?

It tells the story from the puppets' point of view, enhanced by video projections.

Schafer studied puppetry arts in Barcelona, Spain, set up her own company in Austria in 1993 and developed her own form of "visual theater."

Standing about 60 centimeters, each of Schafer's string puppets is a special piece of art and performs its very own tricks - the technique of the movement of the individual figure is at the center of her work.

The Theater Practice from Singapore, Theater P'yut from South Korea and Fat Bird Theater from Shenzhen in Guangdong Province will jointly present "-ing," an imaginative play featuring three women who play the roles of a diary, an encyclopedia and a cello, individually.

It is part of Theater Practice's "poor theater series" with "back-to-basics theatrics." The low budget and lack of actual resources challenge artists to draw on their imagination, to find new ways to get around limitations. Theater Practice is Singapore's first bilingual theater company. The play will be performed in English, Korean and Chinese.

Two new plays of Shanghai origins, including the Chinese premiere of British comic thriller "The 39 Steps" and the Chinese version of Broadway classic "Sleuth," will also be performed during the festival.

Meanwhile, students from Xie Jin Film and Television Art College of Shanghai Normal University will present their innovative physical theater "Hua Mu Lan," a legendary female figure who in disguise joined the army.

"The 39 Steps" (Shanghai)

Date: through November 15, December 8-20 (closed on Monday), 7:30pm

Tickets: 100-200 yuan

In Chinese with no subtitles

"Hitler in Love" (Moldova)

Date: November 16-19

Invitation only. In Romanian with Chinese subtitles

"Sleuth" (Shanghai, China)

Date: November 19-December 6 (closed on Monday), 7:30pm

Tickets: 120-200 yuan

In Chinese with English subtitles

"Rape" (Hangzhou, China)Date: November 21-24, 7:30pm

Tickets: 100-200 yuan

In Chinese with no subtitles

"Hua Mu Lan" (Shanghai, China)

Date: November 21-22, 7:30pm

Tickets: 80-200 yuan

In Chinese with no subtitles

"Judith" (Denmark)

Date: November 23-25, 7:30pm

Tickets: 100-200 yuan

In Italian with Chinese introduction

"Twice Upon a Time" (Austria)

Date: November 25-26, 7:30pm

Tickets: 100-200 yuan

In English with Chinese subtitles

"Unbound" (Canada)

Date: November 27-29, 7:30pm

Tickets: 100-200 yuan

No dialogue

"Floating Brothel" (US)

Date: November 27-29, 7:30pm

Tickets: 100-200 yuan

In English with Chinese subtitles

"-ing" (Singapore)

Date: November 30-December 1, 7:30pm

Tickets: 100-200 yuan

In English, Korean and Mandarin

"Lost in Dark" (Jilin, China)

Date: December 4-6, 7:30pm

Tickets: 80-200 yuan

In Chinese with no subtitles

"My Garden" (Japan)

Date: December 3, 7:30pm; December 4, 2pm

Tickets: 100-200 yuan

In Japanese with Chinese subtitles

"Morning, Mum!!" (Japan)

Date: December 5, 7:30pm; December 6, 2pm

Tickets: 100-200 yuan

In Japanese with Chinese subtitles


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