In the lead up to the spectacular Oz Asia Festival commencing this week in Adelaide, the focus shifts to Shandong Province – birthplace of Confucius and of several famous tales such as ‘Red Sorghum’ and ‘Dream Of The Ghost Story’, which are being adapted for stage for their Australian Premiere in September.
Glam Adelaide spoke with the Chinese Directors of both shows and can safely say that this is going to be one amazing Festival given the Chinese reputation for putting on the most grandiose of performances .
Speaking from Qingdao,China, Director of ‘Red Sorghum’ Mr Xu Rui says he got the idea to convert this popular film into a dance theatre piece through an opportunity in gaining the stage rights, which is how it all started. “Author Mo Yan was very excited to have it converted to a dance theatre piece, so everything fit together and this version was born. To put this famous work on stage was a big challenge, and differentiating between Mo Yan’s original story and the Award Winning film of the same name had Mo Yen quite impressed. He felt that the stage version more closely represented the story as he intended originally, so Mr Yan was emotionally moved and gave his stamp of approval immediately”.
Clearly Xu Rui understood what it took to adapt the iconic story into a theatrical dance piece. It is about Jiu Er, a young Chinese woman betrothed to an older man (Li Datou) who ends up running his sorghum distillery after his untimely death. It then chronicles her struggles and subsequent resistance of Japanese invaders during the second Sino-Japanese War. The story is focused on the conservative aspects of Chinese society at that time, with Jiu Er seeking freedom despite being destined for arranged marriage. The focus then shifts to the Japanese occupation of China and the struggle of the Chinese trying to regain control of their destiny. The story is essentially a juxtaposition of the fight for freedom and independence through the eyes of one woman and a whole country.
Made into a 1987 film which marked Zhang Yi Mou’s Directorial debut, this version is going to impress with its boldness, colour, breathtaking imagery and grandiose! The film is a stunning blend of cinematography, music, and colourful Chinese culture with attention to detail leaving nothing behind. A hard act to follow but safe to say that Rui nails it.
“The novel is quite well known so the original authors intentions are extremely important. Zhang Yi Mou’s film though, is also a good interpretation and true to Mo Yan’s intentions,” says Xu Rui.
The story contains much more than any medium whether stage or film could translate, but both the film and stage version focus on similar key elements, so Rui drew from that and extracted the best elements of each for this production. “After reading the novel & watching the film, you pick up different things from both. The main focus for us is to use dance as the means to express the ideas, so whilst of course focussing on drama there is a need for more physical expression. Both the film and the stage show express different things better than the other in some parts, so it’s an equal share in telling the story as Mo Yan intended. We happily utilised both aspects, and took the better of both”
When asked if it was difficult to adapt to stage given that die hard fans of the film would judge it strongly, Rui’s reply is that “We tried hard to tell this story through dance without copying the film outright, we tried to express the most powerful imagery through physicality in place of cinematography, which is most important in changing mediums .We have also changed the main characters a little so through using body language only, we’ve had to make their presence more powerful in this adaption. ” Rui said that the casting process was very hard because the dancers had to have intensity in their movement, and be able to act as well. Of this process he says, “We had very high expectations on both aspects therefore so we spent a lot of time with casting, and of course rehearsing. It was the most important process, as they really need to touch the heart and emotion of the characters. They had to become the characters mentally, emotionally and physically in every way”.
Watching it evolve from a script to the first dress rehearsal was exciting for Rui and the production team seeing it finally taking shape. “We were also nervous as it’s an established story, and we were worried whether audiences would like our adaption or not. But give that the author likes it, we’re quite confident. Mo Yen’s opinion is important, but for us we really want the audience to love it too.”
Xu Rui won’t be coming to Adelaide this time, but is looking forward to trying some of our own special ‘Red Sorghum’ from the Barossa Valley when he does.
Another adaption being presented for OzAsia is ‘Dream Of The Ghost Story’, performed by Shandong Acrobatic Troupe under the Direction of Mr Yao Jianguo.
A collection of supernatural stories written by Pu Song Ling in the Qing Dynasty forms the basis of this legendary love story of a human man and a fox spirit. In its own publicity it describes ‘Dream Of The Ghost Story’ as follows: ‘Ghosts, foxes, immortals and demons are brought to life with stunning performances and dream-like staging.’
With a cast of around 50 acrobats, the average age of the performers in this production is 20 years old. Founded in 1969, the Shandong Acrobatic Troupe is one of the most highly regarded acrobatic troupes in China with a swag of awards and international performances to its name. The Shandong Acrobatic Troupe has created many high quality acrobatic shows including the award-winning, Man Juggling (1984) which won the Gold Clown Award in the 10th Monaco Monte International Circus (1984) and first place at the Shandong Acrobatic Festival (1984). In 1994, the troupe won the prestigious Gold Yellow Crane Award at the 2nd China Wuhan International Acrobatic Art Festival for their performance, Juggling the Benches with the Feet (1994). In 1997, the troupe took home the Gold Clown Award for the second time in the 21st Monaco Monte Carlo International Circus (1997). The talented troupes were also inducted in the Guinness World Records (1997) for their outstanding acrobatics and risk-taking tricks.
In 1998, The Shandong Acrobatic Troupe performed in the Winter Olympics opening ceremony celebrations in Nagano (Japan) and in that same year performed in the premiere ceremony for the Walt Disney animated film, Mulan.
Having already been to Australia twice, director Yao Jianguo is excited to be returning with ‘Dream Of Ghost Story’ for OzAsia Festival.
“This is from a collection of old stories from around the Qing Dynasty time and originates in Shandong where of course I also come from. We’re very excited to be presenting it in Adelaide for the first time.”
Much like Red Sorghum, taking literary works and turning them into physical performances can have it’s own demands, and Jianguo agrees this was the hard part.“As you can imagine, it was hard to adapt this from story to stage, to be true to the original.”
Jianguo is very excited to be coming to Adelaide and presenting Shandong culture to Australian audiences. He proudly declares that “Shandong culture is of course Chinese culture, but Shandong was the birthplace of Confucianism, which has a huge influence on the Chinese people overall so it is unique and special.”
The OzAsia Festival will run between September 3-20 and will feature Shandong Province, the birthplace of Confucius as the focus.
In addition to these amazing shows, there will be food, craft, visual art, music and much more as part of the Festival
Bookings and information: