Reads- 2023 NTT Fall for Great Souls


Penning Letters that Journey through Time: A Collective Theater Effort

Sevenfish WU | Drama Critic


In this technological era, the function conveying messages by letters seems to be replaced by emails, messaging apps, and video calls, almost turning them into old relics displayed in museum. However, through tangible words, handwriting, and texture of paper, letters have the magical ability to convey intangible emotions and connections between the sender and recipient which linger between the lines, allowing us to feel (or imagine) the warmth they carry.


Comparatively, theater shares a profound essence with letters, distinct from mediums like movies, television, or OTT platforms. Beyond mere "observation," theater emphasizes the necessity of co-presence among individuals in the same physical space. Thus, a letter becomes a different kind of space, continuing the warmth and traces of many hands, and it only holds significance when both the writer and the reader are present. In this year's NTT Fall for Great Souls, several letters venture through time and are delivered to us through the medium of theater.


The first letter is a letter from home and a letter of love, love between sovereign and courtier and that between father and son.


TANG Mei-yun and TANG Wen-hua, two legendary actors in Taiwan traditional  theater respectively, join forces once again, along with DAI Jun-fang, the recipient of the Golden Melody Awards for Traditional Arts and Music for Best Director, and CHEN Jian-xing, the recipient of Award Best Scriptwriter, to pen this letter titled ZHUGE Liang: A Promise Never Forgotten. The theme of sovereign and courtier is an age-old topic in traditional repertoire, but in the era of democracy, it is replaced by the idea of "elected representatives," and the value of loyalty from the past may be perceived as outdated or antiquated. As a “contemporary” opera, ZHUGE Liang: A Promise Never Forgotten reimagines the loyalty between ZHUGE Liang and LIU Bei, the sincerity reflected in the story of Three Visits to the Thatched Cottage in the search for talent and the gratitude for being recognized. It may even adopt a subtly bromance perspective, slightly transcending the boundaries of the sovereign-courtier relationship. Even if the plot does not overtly display such dynamics, the lens of "love" will do the trick.


Moreover, scriptwriter CHEN Jian-xing, since his work on The Storyteller and Her Dream, has embarked on a trajectory of rewriting character narratives. In ZHUGE Liang: A Promise Never Forgotten, the story unfolds after ZHUGE Liang's death during the Shu Han period. Amidst our anticipation of decline and desolation, through the retrospective gaze of ZHUGE Liang's son, ZHUGE Zhan, we gain insight into their father-son relationship. This relationship is then juxtaposed with that of LIU Bei and his son, LIU Shan. Even more intriguing are the multiple parallels between ZHUGE Zhan and LIU Shan, as well as between ZHUGE Liang and LIU Bei. The intertwining relationship between sovereign and courtier, and father and son, resemble entangled threads that can neither be severed nor unraveled. This letter constructs a fictional tale within the backdrop of the Three Kingdoms, where characters gaze each other across time and space, and in doing so, they co-write a chapter of history with us in this contemporary age, becoming immortal.


Another form of temporal permanence unfolds within the second letter.


This letter comes from an individual named CHENG, who experienced the White Terror during the 1950s. During the period of martial law, CHENG and his lover, Xiao Juan, conceal themselves in the mountains of Keelung, engaging in underground political activities. However, after being arrested, CHENG betray his lover and his past ideals, choosing to live a life of compromise. Coexisting with life yet akin to death, this letter slowly unravels CHENG 's identity, inching closer to reality, which gradually diverges from the perception held by his granddaughter—this forms one of the storylines of the collaboration between Approaching Theatre and Gang-a Tsui Theater titled Apostating Time. The title derives from a piece in Nanguan Opera titled ZHU Bian, which narrates the story of ZHU Bian, a Southern Song envoy who is imprisoned by a country called Jin. ZHU Bian marries the Jin princess, but they maintain a relationship akin to siblings with no actual marital bond. After the peace negotiations of the Southern Song and Jin, ZHU Bian bids farewell to the Jin court and returns to his homeland, expressing gratitude to the princess. However, as the Nanguan orchestra restarts performance multiple times, it fails to reach the end. It is much like the clamor of noises in the times and lives of individuals, akin to CHENG's letter, a piece that exists "beyond reality," unrecorded in history.


In Apostating Time, both Xiao Juan and the princess are portrayed by CHENG Yin-zhen, creating a parallel between the two stories set in the Southern Song era and the 1950s. However, can individuals from different generations truly compare and mirror each other? What are the respective homelands of CHENG and ZHU Bian, Xiao Juan and the princess? On the other hand, Xiao Juan and the princess seem to embody two generations in one person, of different origins, as if searching for an "Taiwanese" performative identity. They persistently inquire: Where does Taiwan come from? Or is it necessary to fervently pursue its origin considering its undeniable existence?


Lastly, is Taiwan in the end that unresolved question?


In reality, we constantly draw upon narratives and feelings from different generations, traversing through time and space within the theater. As contemporary individuals, we inquire about our identity concerning this island, and with the letter in Apostating Time, we allow these questions to be passed on, giving rise to the possibility of posing and answering queries for those who remains. These reflections on self-identity attempt to rewrite this island from different perspectives. They serve as the core themes in works like Whale Island and The ForgottenWhale Island explores the contours of Taiwan through sound and form, while The Forgotten beautifully portrays the cruelty of Taiwan's past mining disasters.


The theater, operating in a realm of fiction, unleashes what cannot be confronted and conveyed in reality. It is akin to a blank sheet of white paper, where the words written upon it endow it with the function of transmission, embodiment, and continuity. In this process, it collaboratively generates meaning in collaboration with humans. Thus, we must continue to write, create, observe, and feel. Only then can we endeavor to fill the gaps in our understanding of ourselves from the past. Moreover, it is by doing so that we can solidify our ever-evolving "identity" that has been subject to repeated elucidation, questioning, and concealment.


Fall's Bounty for the Soul: Season of Nourishment for Theater Enthusiasts

JimmyBlanca  | Podcaster


Bid farewell to the scorching summer and welcome the delightful coolness of autumn and the returning appetite. Amid the indulgence of satiating growling stomach, it is also time for the National Taichung Theater's Fall for Great Souls, a yearly celebration that Taiwan's theater fans would never miss. Paying homage to masters and classics alike, Fall for Great Souls brings together ingenious theater talents from home and abroad who unleash their most impressive talents to wholeheartedly present 11 exquisitely crafted, delectable masterpieces of diverse styles.


A Masterful Display of Artistry and Ingenuity by Unrivaled Dance and Music Powerhouses


Introducing the extraordinary dance troupe that graces the Fall for Great Souls: Netherlands Dance Theatre (NDT). This time, the young and talented NDT 2 will the stage, and present the works by three renowned international choreographers, showcasing the troupe's impeccable dance skills. In Edward Clug's Cluster, we witness dancers moving in perfect synchrony with the music, like a precise and flawless mathematical formula. In Crystal Pite's Ten Duets on a Theme of Rescue, 10 duets explore the intricate dynamics of intimate relationships, portraying a delicate interplay of tender emotions and contradicting struggles and clashes. And Nadav Zelner's Bedtime Story uncovers dancers’ bizarre and restless sides, as they passionately dancing to the rhythmically charged music.


Then we have one of the world's oldest and top-rated orchestras, the Gewandhausorchester, which once premiered the works of the musical giants like Mozart, Beethoven, Mendelssohn, and Wagner. Under the baton of the Latvian-born conductor/current music director Andris Nelsons, a multiple Grammy winner known for his dynamic and energetic conducting style, the orchestra returns to Taiwan after many years. This time, they will revisit Wagner's overture from Tristan und Isolde and "Liebestod," and take on Anton Bruckner's monumental Symphony No. 9 in D minor. This legendary German symphony orchestra, led by a stardom conductor of international acclaim, promises an unforgettable auditory feast for the audience.


From the Tales of Cosmic Genesis to Contemporary Portraits: Exploring Both the Ebb and Flow of Events in Taiwan


Approximately 2 million years ago, during the largest tectonic movement in human history, Taiwan emerged from the depths of the earth. The theatrical collaboration Whale Island by La Cie MaxMind and Puppet & Its Double, embarks from Taiwan's geographical imagery and tells a mythological story through diverse puppetry. Personifying elements such as the Kuroshio current, Tropic of Cancer, and underwater volcanoes, the production blends traditional music of Nanguan and Beiguan with contemporary genres like hip-hop and electronic, echoing the realities of modern society. As the whale rises and falls, Whale Island teases out the vicissitudes of the island’s lineage.


Beyond its lush, perilous mountains, Taiwan's inhabitants have endured tumultuous historical upheavals. The Apostating Time by Approaching Theatre and Gang-a Tsui Theater, connects traditional Nanguan and Liyuan Opera with modern theater, drawing parallels of the plight of Song and Jin Dynasty envoys and the persecution during the White Terror period under the party-state apparatus. The play delves into the choices and conflicts, humiliations and tribulations faced by individuals imprinted different identities. What similarities and differences lie between the political prisoners of traditional opera and the modern history of Taiwan? Should one serve their country or themselves? Whose heroes are they and to whom are they traitors? As time changes, how do we make sense of and interpret the tugs-of-war between zeitgeist and human nature?


Now time is drawing closer to us, let's dive into the world of laborers beneath the earth's surface, who dedicated their lives to Taiwan's golden era of economic prosperity. Riverbed Theatre, known for its mastery of imagery theater, presented The Forgotten in 2021, a haunting tribute to the coal miners of Taiwan's 1980s. With its magical and poetic style, and precise and grand staging, the production received widespread acclaim. Beyond its inner essence—satirizing the extreme greed of upper-class capitalists and mourning the sacrifices made by the working-class for love—it serves as a reminder of the past that should be remembered and those who should not be forgotten. Moreover, the work also invites audience to explore the external aspect of the work, as director Craig Quintero ingeniously makes use of the NTT Playhouse, unveiling the exceptional beauty of the space in a unprecedented manner for the audience to behold.


Classics Reimagined: Savoring the Alternative Flavor of An Old Tale


The Tang Mei Yun Taiwanese Opera Company, following the success of Royal Feast of the Underworld, once again collaborates with leading laosheng (male character) actor TANG Wen-hua from the GuoGuang Opera Company, joined by the award-winning director duo CHEN Jian-xing and DAI Jun-fang, along with the everlasting leading lady XU Xiu-nian, the living national treasure Xiao-mi and young actors, to present the new Taiwanese opera ZHUGE Liang: A Promise Never Forgotten. Retelling the history by turning away from the traditional approach of focusing on historical events in the Three Kingdoms, this adaptation delves deep into the emotional connections between characters. Witness how the two TANGS interpret the touching bond between LIU Bei and ZHUGE Liang, as both loyal king and courtier and kindred spirits. Moreover, through the eyes of ZHUGE Liang's son, ZHUGE Zhan, it explores the unspoken feelings between father and son to illustrate intricately the most idealistic and passionate heroic spirit of ZHUGE Liang.


Two of NTT's inhouse productions are familiarly classic with a fresh twist. Shakespeare's most renowned and tragic love story, Romeo and Juliet, finds itself transposed to our materialistic present of over abundant yet fragile connections. Can the innocence, recklessness, and purity of the star-crossed lovers survive in this modern context? Two emerging Taiwanese theater directors, WU Jing and CHEN Jung, ingeniously reinterpret the tale, summoning RJ and Others" in the contemporary language of love, while contemplating the reuse of old materials to support the values of low-carbon, eco-friendly theater. Moreover, NTT will embark on its first French opera production in collaboration with the Royal Opera House. Bringing together exceptional vocalists from both domestic and international scenes, along with the three-year-old NTT Choir, they present Jules Massenet's fairy-tale-inspired work Cendrillon. The French director Laurent Pelly's rendition of Cendrillon enchants and surprises with its fantastical and splendid stage design, vibrant colors, and amusingly extravagant fashion, revealing a uniquely different side to Cendrillon.


Exploring the Duality of Human Nature: Challenging Conventional Thinking to Uncover Potential Synergies in the Next Wave of Actions


Following the success of Democracy in America in 2018, the Italian director Romeo Castellucci collaborates once again with the National Taichung Theater to co-produce BROS. A multi-talented artist, Romeo Castellucci personally oversees the stage, lighting, and costume design, transforming a group of amateur actors into a colossal apparatus executing higher authorities' will. They are clad in police uniforms and receiving instructions through earpieces. Each command is met with swift action, devoid of hesitation and unnecessary emotion—nothing but absolute obedience. The enigmatic and eerie visual presentation, coupled with the stunning and mysterious sound effects, challenge the audience with stark evil and cruelty, prompting reflections on the legitimacy of law and the tyranny of centralized systems. Through this immersive experience, spectators are compelled to break free from the shackles of apathy and complicity.


Next, the Hofesh Shechter Company, known for pushing the limits of theater acoustics while delivering explosive and dazzling performances, presents two intertextual dance works, Clowns / The Fix, in Taichung for the first time. Hofesh Shechter, a choreographer and composer extraordinaire, holds an esteemed position in the contemporary dance world. The first half of the performance, Clowns exhibits raw, violent, and tense movements, accompanied by a powerful percussion soundtrack. Dressed in regency-era attire, the dancers resemble marionette clowns, manipulated by invisible hands, repeating eerie involuntary actions. It is a satire of the greedy appetite of capitalism and the malevolence of struggles for power. After the toxic and threatening Clowns, the second half of the performance, The Fix, exudes a therapeutic power, offering a gentle interpretation and detoxification of human nature. True to its name, this prescription is a remedy brimming with the radiance of human goodness, seeking to heal weary hearts. Through tender vulnerability and resilient fluidity, it unveils the inherent kindness, sympathy, and natural connections among people, soothing and purifying negative thoughts and violence.


The human race, with its amalgamation of good and evil, has become a potent dominator of this world, crafting technology to fulfill their own needs. However, as technology becomes increasingly human-like, questions arise about human dominance and supremacy over all. Could there be an algorithm that looks back from the creation (AI) to the creator (humans)? This is precisely what Cloud Gate 50's masterwork for the second half of this year, WAVES by CHENG Tsung-lung, explores—an experimental dance piece that delves into the future of body usage through AI by collaborating with the Japanese multimedia artist, Daito MANABE. The two artists were both born in 1976. As CHENG works alongside the ageless world of organic life, MANABE thrives in the binary world of zeros and ones. They two artists combine their strengths and experiment with AI technology, analyzing and deconstructing the dancers' bodily codes—unveiling the invisible rhythm of their breaths, the tangible use of muscles, and the neural transmissions of their energy. They expand the possibilities and ways of dancing, exploring the multifaceted forms of waves, both tangible and intangible.


“Spring brings life, summer nurtures growth, autumn bestows abundance, and winter grants respite, so does the constant cycle of energy flow. And humans should follow suit.” As winter approaches, it's crucial to take time for self-nourishment, humbly observe and internalize all that we see, hear, learn, and feel. Fall for Great Souls at the National Taichung Theater gathers remarkable perspectives from world theater masters, accompanying you in storing the energy needed for the coming year.