Saturday, 24 June 2017

Heart of Dramaturgy: Sun Son @ Edfringe 2017

Heart of Darkness by Sun Son Theatre
Venue 26: Summerhall Cairns Lecture Theatre / Time: 15.15 (40 mins)
August 2, 3: £6 / August 4-6, 11-13, 18-20,25-27: £12 (£10) / August 8-10, 15-17, 22-24: £10 (£8)
Box office: 0131 560 1581

Answers from artistic director Chong-Leong Ng except where indicated
What was the inspiration for this performance?
Heart of Darkness was inspired by the choreographer and dancer Pei-Fen Low’s grandmother – her origins in Fujian, China, her marriage in Penang, Malaysia, and her complex interior life. Onstage we see a woman gnawed by time, and yet time shrinks in her shadow. Long hair is used in the performance to symbolise this woman’s pathway through life; so many aspirations, expectations and fears lay hidden deep inside her. 

Heart of Darkness attempts to understand this woman and her destiny – is it irreversible? – but also the circumstances and fate of other women who are at risk of being slowly forgotten.

Is performance still a good space for the public discussion of ideas?
Absolutely.  Although inspired by Pen-Fei Low’s aged grandmother, Heart of Darkness has a potentially wider relevance for some contemporary theatre-goers. In ancient times, in the Eastern world, you would marry off your daughter to a new family. It was all arranged. But we still have these issues in society today. 

Taiwan is a democracy, a modern country, but still we see a lot of women coming from South East Asia who marry Taiwanese men. It’s not arranged in the same way, but often those women don’t have a choice.
How did you become interested in making performance?
Pen-Fei Low: I am a quiet person, I have difficulties in express myself, and I always wished that I could have a different life. Making performance is a process of making a second life for me. 

My observation of the characters that the performers play enables me to gain knowledge about others’ life experiences. Playing different characters seems like living a second life on stage. I am also curious about life stories. 

Making performance is not only done because we want to manifest and share our thoughts, but also to search for the answer to the questions we proposed. Through performance the untold stories unfold. It’s like a rite of passage that helps to bring us closer to what is most true and valuable.
Is there any particular approach to the making of the show?
A key prop and image of Heart of Darkness is long hair. We started with this image of hair as the bond between women and the family. But it also symbolises a trap – trapping them in the family – and the path of a person’s life. 

Everything was arranged for Pei-Fen Low’s grandmother; she always walking along this arranged path on her journey. Within this framework we wanted to try to imagine what kind of emotions she experiences. Maybe she feels protected, but maybe – given a choice – she would have taken a different path. Maybe even now she wants to struggle and to break free.

Does the show fit with your usual productions?
Founded in 1998, Sun Son Theatre is a unique musical and physical theatre company based in Zhuwei, a riverside neighbourhood in the north of Taipei. Collectively created by performers who function as actors, dancers and musicians, our productions explore the primal power of both body and sound. 

We use whatever it takes to tell stories that reveal the inner lives of human beings: voice and instruments from around the world; bodies and objects, masks or puppetry; drama and ritual; traditional or folk elements and contemporary theatre techniques. Our work is characterised by an organic performance energy free from racial and cultural boundaries.
The company practices a method of collective devising in the performers are expected to seek out their own ideas and inspiration, and to improvise. What’s important in performance is not to think too much, but to react spontaneously by following one’s emotions and feeling the heartbeat, the space, the air, your partner and the moment.
As is characteristic of all of our productions, Heart of Darkness features live music using instruments from around the world. The first half includes Malaysian noise art and experimentation with Chinese instruments, which together are meant to represent the uncertainties and anxieties before marriage. 

Drumming is added later. After the woman in the piece breaks away from the hair that is her constraint, she needs to find courage to fight against the future. She summons this courage through ritual. And, in this case, ritual is signalled by percussion.
What do you hope that the audience will experience?
Heart of Darkness is charged with an emotional tension as it explores the possible redemption and unresolved challenges of its female protagonist. We would like the audience, as they experience the performance, to see and feel it as if it is a monologue expressing the power of a woman having a conversation with her life, and with the social structure she finds herself in, and her ambitions, dreams and her future.

What strategies did you consider towards shaping this audience experience?
Typical of Sun Son Theatre, Heart of Darkness contains references to Asian cultural traditions which are transformed when fused with contemporary theatre. 

Examples are some of the symbols used in the show: hair, which is like life - always growing; the colour red, which has powerful associations and can symbolise good things; and a flag segment that represents a woman’s procreative cycle. But there are also a lot of spaces for the audience to use its own imagination.

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