Tuesday, December 04, 2007

Sleepwalking in Shanghai

Two years ago, when I last wrote this blog in mainland China, I said that it wasn't possible to read it there. As if by magic, it suddenly was - suggesting that somebody was watching carefully. So -I'll try the same thing again. Mr Censor, if you're looking, I don't think there's anything here you should find too objectionable. Other sites that are barred make some sort of sense - I've not been able to look at much news from the UK, for example - but the Border Crossings blog? Really?

Anyway - I can still write it for folk back home.

I was wrong about the Astor House Hotel - as I discovered when I checked out this morning. It was actually remarkably good value for the vast room and the very good breakfast. I'd been freaked by the official room rate - what I'd got online was the discounted one. I was too chicken to bottle out once I'd been given the bill.... and in any case the hotel I moved to was the same one I used two years ago: very close to the Yue Opera Company's HQ, and even less costly for a perfectly decent place. It's called the Nan Ying, and it feels quite nostalgic, especially since it gets an honorary mention in Dis-Orientations.

Heavy with jet-lag, my body screaming that it's 2am in London, I go with a young man from the British Council, Du Wei, to meet Director You. He's as charming as ever, through the lengthy process of translation, and seems very excited about what we can do to develop the work further. Ruihong arrives and joins us: great to see her again. We joke that we meet once a year. Oddly, if what we're thinking about now pays off, then this will turn out to be true for next year as well.

Director You wants to bring Dis-Orientations back to China, ideally as a presentation in the Shanghai Festival, with a tour of other venues (perhaps especially universities). This is wonderful - exactly what Ke Yasha and I discussed just after the show finished in London. He's less keen on developing a third play and showing all three - not least because I suspect he doesn't want Ruihong to leave China for a long time again. Fair enough. I can re-think plans for the third piece, and work out for myself hat's the best way to round this off. But the opportunity to present something so innovative and daring to a Chinese audience during the Olympic year is just too good to pass up. There's many a slip of course - like just who's going to pay for all this.... but the goodwill is palpable, and I suspect, if we get a positive response from the Festival, that this will happen. I also think the Festival probably will be positive: I met the director in Hong Kong back in March, and he was asking then if the piece might be available for this year!

We go down to the rehearsal stage, and watch some of the younger performers working on a version of The Dream of the Red Chamber. Gender games are much on show again: the main character in the sequence is a dan actor(male to female impersonator), who is mistaken for a real woman by a clown character. Ironically, both roles are here played by women. The moment when "he" reveals his true identity is fabulous - the young woman puts on her sheng boots and so seems to grow, as well as shifting her vocal tone and performance demeanour. As so often in these forms, the acting undercuts any essentialism on the gender question.

I've often wondered if they know just how radical their work is. I guess that, if they are taking on our de-construction of it, then yes they do.

Ruihong, Du Wei and I have lunch in a nearby restaurant. Ruihong is clearly a "star" in this public space. This is good news too: there shouldn't be a problem getting a Chinese audience for a production with her in it. I tell her, via Du Wei. And she agrees!

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