Words by Artistic Director- 2023 Fall for Great Souls


Is It Theater or Real Life?

At the end of June this year, Italian director Romeo Castellucci’s BROS appeared at the Holland Festival. When the audience entered the theater, the stage was barren except for an automatic contraption of machine guns. What they heard were echoes of repetitive gunfire, generating an ominous pall of fear. But that was only the prelude. A large group of people dressed in police uniforms and their ensuing body language and actions stunned those seated in the theater, who could barely look at the stage proceedings with a straight eye.

Even after you exit the theater, you may not be able to shake the shadow of that experience. On June 27, a 17-year-old youth of North-African ancestry was shot to death by police at a traffic stop in a Paris suburb. That incident prompted violent demonstrations in many French cities where cars and garbage cans were set alight and destroyed. In response, the French government went on high alert in its major cities, and the Marseilles railway station was forced to close temporarily. Two weeks later, I was sitting at a sidewalk café in Paris and saw fully-armed military police marching past. Armored vehicles drove by every now and then; each carried about 3-4 officers for reinforcements. The city of love and romance was shrouded under dark clouds.

None of the above had to do with Castellucci’s prophetic staging, except for history repeating itself. The theater originated as ritual stemming from religious practice in which participants’ spirits are cleansed, their minds distilled, relaxed, their worries suspended. Modern theater often inspires the audience to ponder life, to respond to the creators’ texts and contexts. Sometimes we may be befuddled, other times we may find immediate resonance. But not all of these experiences are joyful; some may even unearth anguish and pain as we encounter facets of real life that make us contemplate further.


Every year during autumn and winter, Fall for Great Souls sets the tone at the National Taichung Theater as we learn from the classics or inject contemporary perspectives into these masterpieces. During the past six years, Taichung metropolitan area has grown from virgin territory for the performing arts into a hub where audience members are eager to grow and embrace sophistication. We’ve also borne witness to more mature creative artists whose desires aren’t just to narrate a story or share a life experience. Rather, their aim is to address topics tangible to our world that involve the audience, or relay messages that still ripple long after we’ve left the theater, with plenty of food for thought to gestate and respond.


This year, many programs that may seem dazzling to the eye actually contain hidden agendas: Whale Island is a modern fable based on a fairy tale; ZHUGE Liang: A Promise Never Forgotten does not focus on the legendary historical figure, but instead depicts how his offspring live under his shadow; The Forgotten is a requiem mourning a mining disaster. While Apostating Time may trace its roots to Chinese history crafted as a response to contemporary warfare and definition of family through an exquisite mixture of Nanguan and Liyuan Opera, R&J and others transplants Shakespeare’s youthful romance, placing the two lovers—Romeo and Juliet—in our world today. Finally, WAVES engages in dialogue with AI, incorporating artistic perspectives of the new generation and inventing a new vocabulary for the Cloud Gate Dance Theatre.


In fact, some dance works address hardcore ideas. The first half of Clowns / The Fix of Hofesh Shechter Company might seem oppressive bordering on being unbearable, hence the lightness of the second half is devised to balance it out. Three dances from NDT 2 contain different esthetics and rhythms: are they supposed to be mechanical? Is it irony? Perhaps black humor? Differences and conflicts that exist in every one of us can be excavated anew. Issues we don’t want to face in life may sometimes be forced upon us in the theatrical setting. On offer are some enchanting music, such as Massenet’s opera Cendrillon, and the Gewandhausorchester bringing forth symphonic repertoire that has the power to heal and transcend.


Do we ever learn from experience, thus enrich our lives? Come into the theater, open your eyes to new vistas. There you can take your time, adjust your perspective and ponder subjects close to you even more deeply. Perhaps through these you will gradually grasp the reasons for the existence of theater/life.   


—Joyce Chiou, General and Artistic Director