- Purchase/rental options available:
This essay examines the shifting role of the nonhuman in performances of the Chinese Legend of the White Snake, which tells the tale of a snake spirit turned woman and her human lover. Beginning with a brief analysis of premodern versions of the White Snake, it argues that the theatre played a key role in transforming the legend from cautionary tale to one that celebrates human/nonhuman hybridity. Through narrative changes and performance practices that foreground the supernatural and the spectacular, theatrical versions of the White Snake have come to mirror its narrative themes of human/nonhuman transformation and transgression. The legend has remained popular in performance repertoires to this day, and in recent years the introduction of new media and technology into its stagings has added a further layer of the technological nonhuman onto the supernatural. This can be seen in three representative twenty-first-century productions that utilize large-scale screens, mechanical stages, and technologically enhanced sets and props: the outdoor performance White Snake Spectacular (Chaoxuan Baishe zhuan) by Taiwanese opera troupe Ming Hwa Yuan; the site-specific Impression West Lake (Yinxiang Xihu); and experimental adaptation directed by Italian theatre artist Giacomo Ravicchio for the Shanghai Dramatic Arts Center (Shanghai huaju yishu zhongxin). The formal techniques employed by these productions align the human and nonhuman in a way that emphasizes their interdependence and the ability of live performance to create new hybrid forms, and brings them into dialogue with broader artistic trends in intermedial and cyborg theatre.