River! RiVeR! RIVER!
A Chinese theatre company tackles the knotty problem of building dams.
The poignant loss that man endures because of his need for electricity was at the core of a Chinese show called "River! River! River!".
The Shanghai-based Landstaging Theatre Company presented the dramatic commentary on hydroelectric dams at Theatre Green's Base Theatre as part of Festival/Tokyo's emerging-artists programme.
Ningbei Zang, artistic director of the two-year-old troupe that specialises in the harsh realities of life, used footage from documentaries filmed for the "
"River! River! River!" opened with nostalgic interviews with people about how the rivers they'd known since childhood had changed.
Actors then presented scenes portraying citizens being affected by the dams. Some were relocated, some moved to new jobs, and some compensated by the government.
It was impossible not to think about the water and electricity we take for granted. It reaches us not naturally but through human manipulation of nature and, if necessary, its destruction.
The script by Zhang Jun and cast member Xu Nan presented the arguments. An immigrant on film insists he's happy with his new life and supports the construction of dams. The actors onstage respond:
"He didn't even know the meaning of 'immigration' and 'dam'."
"People are always being led without knowing what's actually happening."
"Can we call the being-led life happiness?"
More intriguing debate followed over the claims that "modernisation cannot replace tradition" and "the old will always be replaced by the new".
"The new has collapsed and everything is gone," was the riposte. Then came, "What can we do now?"
With chairs in the small theatre angled to make aisle space for the roving actors, all members of the audience could see both them and the projections on two walls. We always felt we were part of the performance.
"River! River! River!" is matter-of-fact and straight to the point, but it's an engaging show.
The presentation style, including a short solo dance, might not be groundbreaking, but the subject matter amply made up for that, and this decent evening at the theatre will have kept viewers pondering for weeks afterwards.
Given that millions of people in fast-developing
The writer's trip was fully supported by Festival/Tokyo.
written by Pawit Mahasarinand
published in THE NATION on Thursday 15th December, 2011
photos by Katzuyuki Matsumoto
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