Someone's done a Mandarin interview with artist Jennifer Wen Ma and kunqu opera star Qian Yi, co-creators of Paradise Interrupted! (That's them with composer Huang Ruo in the picture.)
I'm reproducing the interview and its English translation below:
You can see an unexpected melding of elements in Paradise Interrupted, from visual to sonic, traditional and contemporary, east and west, and these fusions are the artistic highlight of the work. We did not simply put all these elements together; From inception to storyline, from music composition to visual presentation, we first deeply digested all these elements before we creating a totally new work of art with a sincere heart to present to everyone.
My background is traditional kun opera training, I am very glad to work with artist and director Jennifer Wen Ma, composer Huang Ruo on this project. Through this journey of discovery, I experienced how something traditional can be injected with a new life and how we can push and move it forward. We have moved a few steps forward on this work that is based upon tradition, hence tradition is not something dead or a museum piece- it is able to move forward with everyone's efforts and continue to develop and be given a new life.
For a long period of time, I was lost and unsure of how I should perform again, it seemed like I have lost the 'flow' in acting. As I grew older, I went back to learn from my teacher again and found traditional Chinese opera training nourishing. After that, the question is how do I present what I have learnt and embodied in this opera. At this cross road, I met these artists who have given me a chance, a stage to present what I have learned, what I have lost and gained on stage and I am very fortunate for that.
而这就要看艺术家的造就了，如果是一个好的艺术家，她在面对这个挑战时, 可以沉淀, 可以停一步，想一想，那自然而然她自己的东西就会出来。我就一直看到钱熠在这段过程中，能有猛劲的上去，也有停顿，甚至是往后退一下，然后让自己立点，那种滋润的东西可以很自然的产生出来，这就展现了传统和现代的火花。
I feel that this show has given Qian Yi a big challenge. The singing method or the voice, are ultimately not kun opera but a brand new one as she uses her kun opera voice to sing contemporary operatic songs. The stage unlike the traditional stage, demands a lot from the performers. Even though kun opera is her starting element point, she has to perform and present differently from the tradition which includes expressing the nuances of her emotions differently.
This is the making of a great artist. When faced with such challenges, a good artist will pause and contemplate to allow her own artistic creation to intuitively evolve.
In the process, I observed how Qian Yi fearlessly charged forward but also at times paused or take a step back to stand on her own solid ground. Qian Yi’s mastery of the rigorous classical movements and openness to experimentation allowed her to bring in brand new expressions to this opera. This is the creative spark resulting from the melding of the traditional and the contemporary.
Without Qian Yi’s stage presence and artistry, what Huang Ruo and I designed, wrote or composed could not come to life. This inspiring performance she gives is what a great artist is made of.
Paradise Interrupted started with a clash with the traditional. I was collaborating with a few young kun performers to present a short opera excerpt in one of my installation works. I told them that since this is a contemporary work and space, we should not be restricted by tradition and we can deconstruct and be open in our approach. Then there was a young singer who told me no and that this traditional art form is perfect, every tune and movement could not be changed.
I understand where she comes from, because that particular opera work is a few hundred years of tradition, passed down from generations to generations of performers who have perfected its and every movement. But as an art practitioner, I thought, hasn’t this attitude sentenced this art form to death, or at least imprisoned it to a museum, like a dinosaur bone. Is there no room for the new and creativity?
It placed a question on my mind and became the seed that I started with. I told my friend lighting designer Lea Xiao that I want to do an exploration, I believe that combining theatre and installation art forms could spark new creativity. Lea introduced me to Qian Yi and as soon as I met her, I knew she is the right person I have been looking for. Someone who knows and loves the traditional art form, and yet is willing to be open and explore further. She understands that the essence of an art form is in its soul, something deep and not superficial.
We met with a lot of challenges but these are opportunities at the same time too. Tang Xian Zu is like a great mountain in front of us. His works has inspired us and allowed us to stand on the shoulders of a great giant and move forward. I am grateful to be a Chinese descendant as our ancestors have given us a lot of invaluable heritage. We cannot just hold them in our hands, we have to make use of it and open a new path in front of us. Like what Jennifer said the theme of this opera is about a woman who has finally found her own voice. But during the search, she has scaled many mountains, fell many times in the mud before getting up again. She experienced all kinds of difficulties in life but at the end, she truly found herself.
This is not merely conceptual and symbolic. It is also a literal journey, finding one’s own voice to sing one’s own songs. We hope that Paradise Interrupted can inspire the audience with this spirit.