Liubimovka / Stanislavsky Festival Project
Ding Lan (2013)
In 2013 we were invited to Moscow by the Stanislavsky Festival, to lead a two week exploratory workshop involving actors from Moscow and Beijing. The workshop took place at the Stanislavsky Estate in Liubimovka, where Stanislavsky himself grew up and where he worked with Chekhov on many of their plays.
Working in three languages, with two translators, we began to develop the story of Li, an old Chinese man living in exile in Moscow. As his mind begins to fracture, he drifts back to his past in Beijing and in particular, to a night at the Peking Opera with his young lover, where he watched the story of Ding Lan. Ding Lan was a young man who failed his oath to look after his parent in their old age. As Li remembers the opera, seen though a series of flashbacks, the characters seem to detach from their place in the past and drift into the living reality of the old man. They are trying to speak to him, to tell him something, about himself and the clash of two cultures. The story is interrupted by visits from Li’s daughter, who is struggling to cope with the deteriorating condition of her father. As her need for her father grows, the man himself is drifting further away, and she must learn to change her expectations and come to terms with a profoundly new relationship.
The work incorporated the prosthetic masks that would become such a central part of our show, Tomorrow. Indeed, many of the seeds of Tomorrow were sewn in this development period. We also met young Russian actress Aleksandra Kuzenkina, who came to Scotland to work on that show. The presentation in Moscow made integral use of the Peking Opera ‘style’, which we were ultimately unable to use in the ongoing project. As a consequence, the direction of the work shifted and Tomorrow abandoned the story of Li, the Chinese man in exile, and instead focussed on the story of George (see Tomorrow page).
We hope one day we might return to the story of Li and create a performance that combines the Peking Opera with our own approach.
The Fish (2014)
We were invited to return to Liubimovka in 2014 to continue our collaboration between Russian and Chinese performers.
By now, we had already created and performed Tomorrow in Brighton and Brasilia. We made the decision not to return to the story of Li, as it felt too close to this show. Instead, using a different approach, we began work exploring the texts of Zuang Zi. These led us to a story about a young woman who, instead of bearing a baby, gives birth to a fish. Her husband, a doctor in the very same hospital, cannot deal with the pressures of fatherhood and nurturing his strange new ‘child’. Instead, he puts all his energy into caring for a mysterious patient, a young woman admitted to the hospital under unusual circumstances, but who remains in a coma. Fascinated, he begins to delve into the past to find out who she is. Is he trying to escape from his paternal responsibilities? Meanwhile, his young wife begins to discover an extraordinary bond with her baby, one that pushes her beyond her limits into an extraordinary, abstract and liberated realm.
A work-in-progress presentation took place at the end of the two-week period. Although we have no current plans to develop this idea further, we love the story and we’re sure it will feed into future projects.
Director Matthew Lenton
Creative Associates Elicia Daly & Louie Ingham
Director Matthew Lenton
Creative Associates Elicia Daly, Peter Kelly & Myra McFadyen