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  • The Sixth International Theatre Olympics in Beijing
  • Jae Kyoung Kim
YOU AND ME. Directed by Zhang Yimou. National Centre for the Performing Arts, Beijing, China. 111 2014.
FOLDING: BEIJING 2014. Concept, choreography, and design by Shen Wei. National Theatre of China, Beijing. 411 2014.

Before APEC China 2014, citizens of Beijing, directed by the government, were on full alert to showcase China’s soft power to the world. The sixth Theatre Olympics in Beijing, hosted by the Beijing municipal government a week ahead of the APEC meeting, was considered a well-timed cultural event that would present significant foreign productions and local performing arts. Such productions, taking their place in the cultural and artistic memories of the local people, can lift a nation’s cultural pride. The artistic program of the 2008 Beijing Olympics Opening Ceremony highlighted the nation’s traditional beauty and demonstrated China’s longing to communicate with the world. The opening of the sixth Theatre Olympics brought back pleasing memories of 2008. Zhang Yimou and Shen Wei, the artistic director and choreographer, respectively, who orchestrated the 2008 Opening Ceremony, heralded the sixth Theatre Olympics with their productions during the first week (Zhang’s Beijing opera You and Meand Shen’s dance performance Folding: Beijing 2014). These two productions, as if extending the 2008 artistic program, were gestures of embracing past and present, traditional and modern, and East and West.

Despite its inspiration from the ancient Olympic spirit, the Theatre Olympics has no direct connection to the modern Olympic Games. As an [End Page 198]independent, nonprofit cultural organization, the Theatre Olympics, founded by eight prominent theatre artists (Theodoros Terzopoulos, Heiner Müller, Nuria Espert, Antunes Filho, Tony Harrison, Yuri Lyubimov, Suzuki Tadashi, and Robert Wilson) in 1994, has been held in various international cities, including Delphi, Greece (1995); Shizuoka, Japan (1999); Moscow, Russia (2001); Istanbul, Turkey (2006); and Seoul, South Korea (2010). Beijing is the sixth host city. Each festival, based on a different theme, has presented distinct characteristics that reflect the national identity, theatre tradition, and cultural interest of the hosting country. This year, announcing its theme of “Dream,” the Chinese committee made public its slogan: “China’s dream meets the world stage.” Defining drama as an artistic expression of dream, the festival proclaimed China’s strong wish to reach the world through their performing arts: “Drama is a way for people to present the dream in their minds. Chinese drama has a dream, which is for more Chinese drama to be played on the stage of world’s drama centre” (Chinese Committee of the Sixth Theatre Olympics. 2014: 3). Accordingly, even though many other domestic and foreign productions presented at the festival are noteworthy, Zhang and Shen’s productions, with their metaphors of “Dream,” captured the overall concept of the festival and traced the afterimage of their 2008 staging of China’s dream of harmony.

As a prominent Chinese filmmaker, Zhang has expanded his artistic reach as a theatre director through a series of live performances suffused with the beauty of traditional Chinese culture and arts, including his direction of Turandotand the 2008 Opening Ceremony. In his previous works, he infused traditional Chinese elements into Western genres; however, in You and Me, he highlighted the modern and minimalistic features of traditional Chinese opera, preserving the traditional theatricality of jingju(Beijing opera) and the moral lesson of an old royal tale (Plates 3 and 4).

Based on a Chinese imperial story, the opera entertained the audience by showcasing a wide spectrum of operatic conventions. Act 1, for instance, begins with a fast-moving plot in which King Zheng Zhuanggong suppresses a political conspiracy against him, discovers his mother’s involvement, and expels her as punishment. To build theatrical tension, sixteen soldiers presented a well-choreographed, acrobatic combat scene, at first behind a white screen as a form of shadow theatre, and then in plain view after tearing down the screen. King Zheng (played by Meng Guanglu) also expressed his overwhelming anger against his mother using trembling hand gestures and intense vocal delivery. Act 2, at the royal dinner party, introduces a more comic mood when the loyal official Ying Kaoshu, who deceives...


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