Culture\Music and Theater

Stage carnival

By Chen Nan | China Daily | Updated: 2017-02-23 07:50

This year's Lin Zhaohua Theater Arts Festival will open with Russian director Lev Dodin's epic play, Brothers and Sisters. Chen Nan reports.

The annual Lin Zhaohua Theater Arts Festival is an important cultural event in China that brings well-known foreign plays to audiences here.

Initiated by established theater director Lin Zhaohua in 2010, the festival will run from March through September, with 16 productions to be staged in Beijing, Tianjin and Harbin this year. Artists from Russia, Poland, Germany, France, Italy and China are expected to participate.

"Human beings and individual fates" is the theme of this year's festival.

Stage carnival

 Stage carnival

Highlights of the theater festival include the Chinese production Dr. Godot or Six People Searching for the 18th Camel (top) and Lev Dodin's Uncle Vanya (above). Photos Provided to China Daily

"We want the festival to speak to the reality that we're living in. By presenting great theatrical productions, audiences can be inspired to reflect on their own lives," says festival curator Qian Cheng, who is also the director of the Tianjin Grand Theater.

The festival will open with Russian director Lev Dodin's epic play, Brothers and Sisters, at the Tianjin Grand Theater on March 4. The eight-hour play, which premiered in 1985 at Maly Drama Theater in St. Petersburg, has toured 14 countries in past decades.

Adapted from several novels by Russian author Fyodor Abramov, the play is about people's daily lives on a farm after World War II.

Brothers and Sisters is among Dodin's most famous works. In 1975, he started to work with Maly Drama Theater. Since 1982, the 73-year-old has been the theater's artistic director. Brothers and Sisters has been in the theater's repertoire for more than 30 years.

"When we prepared for this year's festival, Lin told me that if we don't have Dodin, then we would fail our audience," says Qian, who visited the Russian theater company several times to invite the director to China. "The fourth time I went, I finally met an old man who looks like Santa Claus - it was Dodin."

Qian watched the play and invited Dodin to China, which the director has never visited.

After his trip in March, Dodin will return to China in September with three other productions written by the Russian author and playwright Anton Chekhov - namely, Three Sisters, The Cherry Orchard and Uncle Vanya.

Also at the festival, Polish director Krystian Lupa will present Drinker A, which is based on a novel by the late Chinese writer Shi Tiesheng. The play will be staged in Beijing and Tianjin in June.

It opens with the scene of an alcoholic who died seven days earlier. After the voice over ends, the "corpse" stands up and starts to talk to a mouse about his childhood, parents, ex-wife and his life's struggles.

He Bing, an actor from Beijing People's Art Theater, will play the lead role in Drinker A.

"During the past 10 years, I have worked only with Lin Zhaohua. When he told me that Lupa was going to turn the novel into a play, I was tempted by the idea," says He. "I am nearly 50 and I have been trying to free myself on the stage all the time. I am looking forward to this collaboration."

For Lupa, who had never read Shi's novels, the idea was both interesting and challenging.

"A person can be very different before and after drinking. In the novel, the man - like most people in reality - tells lies in his life. But after drinking, he speaks only the truth. In his story, we can see ourselves," Lupa says.

"I am still working on the script. As a director from a different culture, I have my own interpretation of the Chinese novel. The audience can expect to be surprised."

Sitting next to Lupa at a recent media conference in Beijing, Lin calls himself "an amateur" compared with Lupa.

"I don't have many theories about directing. I am lucky to have some of the best Chinese actors to help me realize my crazy ideas," says the 80-year-old.

Lin graduated from the Central Academy of Drama in 1961 and is considered to be among the country's pioneering theater directors.

From 1984 to 1998, he was deputy head of the Beijing People's Arts Theater, which was founded in 1952 and is known for its plays such as the Teahouse. Lin also lectures at Peking University and the Central Academy of Drama.

Asked about his idea of launching the festival, Lin says that while theater has evolved immensely in Europe, China's theatrical productions are still developing.

"All I want to do is to bring some good plays and let the Chinese audiences watch them. There are plenty of masterpieces out there and we could learn from them."

Other highlights of the festival include 2266, by young French director Julien Gosselin, who turned an unfinished novel by late Chilean writer Roberto Bolano into a 12-hour theatrical production; and the only Chinese production, Dr. Godot or Six People Searching for the 18th Camel, a joint directorial work by Lin and his son, Lin Xiyue.

The Chinese play premiered on the opening day of the Wuzhen Theater Festival last year. The festival is held annually in eastern China's Zhejiang province.

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Stage carnival

(China Daily 02/23/2017 page20)

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