Sunday, September 10, 2006

The Importance of Costume

I read the Guardian yesterday. In the main paper, there was a double-page photo spread on the thirtieth anniversary of Mao's death:,,1868373,00.html
and a full-page interview with a Chinese film director who's made a love story around Tiananmen Square,,1868415,00.html. All of which suggests that this work is very, very current indeed. I just hope the papers notice that we are also working with one of China's greatest artists, and that we are dealing with all those huge changes that have come over the country since the death of Mao, exactly thirty years ago. We're not courting controversy (as Lou Ye does): if anything our work will surprise people in its positive view of China - but we are very emphatically engaged with these issues, and (unlike any other company in the UK which has taken this on) we are working directly with people who are living through it on a daily basis. Which I think is worth a few more column inches than we've achieved so far. Press Night is this Thursday - Chloe's been working hard to get us a good crowd of critics. And I'm nervous again.

There's a huge amount of work to be done before that. We get in to the theatre tomorrow, and start the tech on Tuesday: it all has to be ready by the preview on Wednesday night. I decided to make use of Friday afternoon to deal with some of the technical issues around costume and make-up which we could sort out before we go to Riverside. Time well spent......

In the Asian theatre traditions, costume, wigs and make-up are far more important than they are in the West. They do much of the work that we expect of sets and lighting - and they are also a crucial part of the performer's journey towards the holy status s/he acquires on stage. The physical, visual transformation of the self into something beautiful and transcendent allows these performers the sense of embodying the mythic. Using Yueju within the play, we are also asking Ruihong and Haili to acquire this status within our piece - but we don't allow them the usual time and space to do it. The changes have to happen quickly to faciliate the doubling of the characters and the energy of the whole. We work together to try and make it possible - and it is not at all easy. But, with patience, we do get there. In a way, this tension between forms and expectations is itself part of the play's meaning: Chinese culture is traditionally, gloriously, about the long view. Today, it is plunged into the madly short-termist, ever changing world of global capitalism. I want this play to make a case for the contemplative, the holy, the spiritual in the midst of the mayhem - so it's incumbent on me to make space for it in our own process as well.

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