Profound productions

Updated: 2012-11-30 07:51

By Mu Qian (China Daily)

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 Profound productions

Director Li Liuyi returns to the original form of drama and poetry to look for history's relevance to contemporary society through his new play Antigone. Provided to China Daily

Li Liuyi, the director who coined the term 'pure drama' to bring people back to the essence of plays, presents the Chinese production of Antigone. He shares with Mu Qian about his future projects.

Although Antigone was written by Greek playwright Sophocles in the 5th century BC, Li Liuyi - director of the work's first Chinese production - says it has a contemporary flavor.

"When we rehearsed the play, we found that many of the questions we ask today were already raised by Sophocles in Antigone, like the relationships between power and virtue, law and belief, and individual and society," Li says.

Premiered on Nov 23 at the 2012 Lin Zhaohua Theater Art Festival, Antigone will have another performance at the Peking University Hall on Friday night.

Antigone is a daughter of the accidentally incestuous marriage between Oedipus of Thebes and his mother Jocasta. Antigone's two brothers kill each other in a civil war. After the battle, King Creon declares that as punishment, Polynices' body must be left on the plain outside the city to rot and be eaten by animals, while the other brother Eteocles was buried as tradition warranted.

Antigone feels that it was unjust, immoral and against the laws of the gods, and buries her brother regardless of Creon's law. Her action enrages Creon who put Antigone to death.

"I direct Antigone because I want to go back to the original form of drama and poetry to look for history's relevance to the contemporary society," says Li, a versatile director whose works include traditional Chinese operas, avant-garde theater, Western operas and ballets.

Li didn't change any line of the script, which is translated into Chinese by Luo Niansheng. With minimal set design, there is only a slightly oblique stage, which gives one a feeling of instability. The chorus, which used to sing in ancient Greece, now speaks with exaggerated tones and uses body language.

"I hope to create an ultimate space for acting, and try to have as few other elements as possible," he says.

Antigone is an example of "pure drama", a concept that Li came up with to bring people back to the essence of drama in a time when more theatrical forms are being used.

Li's "pure drama" consists of not only the presentation of dramas in more original forms, but also the audiences' receiving.

"Through dramas, we are not imposing our ideas on the audiences, but to inspire them through theatrical clues," Li says. "If the audience sincerely feels something when watching a drama, no matter what it is, we have achieved our goal."

As a playwright, Li has published a collection of his own works, and he is working on another book of his theoretical essays on "pure drama".

Antigone is not only a new drama production, but also the opening of Li's grand project called "Made in China". Produced by Li Liuyi Studio, the project will present six works in the span of three years.

After Antigone, Li plans to direct two other dramas from ancient Greece, Oedipus the King and Prometheus Bound, and a trilogy based on the Tibetan epic King Gesar.

"As an ancient art form, the development of drama is accompanied by the process of people discovering the world and knowing themselves," Li says. "Under the circumstance of globalization, Chinese theater practitioners are obliged to express their attitude through this charming art form, which means to base it on Chinese traditional culture, to gain new strength by taking a broad view of the whole world, and to avoid the manipulation of commercialization."

Li decides to call his project "Made in China" because he sees the term as somewhat derogatory for products of low quality, and he wants to change its meaning by offering spiritual works from China.

"Ancient Greek dramas interpret the noble spirit of human beings, while King Gesar eulogizes unvarnished goodness and beauty of the world," Li says. "'Made in China' is the voice of drama, and the voice of human beings."

Li has invited some top Chinese artists to participate in the "Made in China" project, including composer Guo Wenjing, who will be music supervisor, artist Lin Tianmiao, who will be visual designer for Oedipus the King, and Hong Kong film director Stanley Kwan, who will be a consultant for the project.

For King Gesar, the longest epic in the world with more than 120 volumes and over 1 million lines, Li is researching the texts to write his own script. He also plans to invite a Tibetan epic singer to join the performance.

This year Li has premiered four new plays. Next year there will be at least another four, namely Oedipus the King, a Chekov play, a Western opera, and a Peking Opera about Confucius.

And between these productions, he will spend three months in Tibet, Qinghai and Sichuan to look for the best epic singer for King Gesar.

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(China Daily 11/30/2012 page18)