And now a diversion away from the earthquake news. After playing around with the actual performance date, the Asphodèles Theatre Company from Lyon, France, will perform a unique show this Thursday at Fuzhou Rd’s Tianchan Yifu Theatre. Under the tag “Harlequin’s trip to China,” the show is part of the French and Chinese Cultural Festival called “Croisements.”
The play will blend the features of traditional Chinese opera with the characteristics of Italian commedia dell’arte (literally meaning “play of professional artists”), a form of semi-improvisational theatre born in 16th-century Italy, and famous for its original leather masks. The plot will revolve around a story of love and revenge, passion and jealousy about an impossible love between an emperor’s daughter and the son of a Venetian merchant.
The Asphodèles Company originates from Lyon, France, and has gained a considerable reputation for its original and modern interpretations of Commedia dell’Arte. The company’s repertoire now extends to twelve different pieces and a total of over one thousand performances across many countries. Its Italian, francophile director Luca Franceschi (who was your correspondent’s drama teacher back in France at the French National School of Drama a few years ago), studied mime and drama with worldwide famous mime master Marcel Marceau, before acting and directing in different theatres around the globe: in the Scalzani company first, then as a member of Tag Teatro company in Venice under the direction of Carlo Boso. Since 1998, he has participated in many festivals as a teacher, director and comedian.
Commedia dell’arte was born in the 16th century and “arte” refers to the professional know-how of artists. It’s a coded theatre with stock characters, a typical style with unique physical and psychological attitudes — a striking visual language, which has a power that goes beyond words. Based only on the actor’s skills, it demands a rigorous discipline in the art of directing burlesque surprises, tours de force and spectacular acrobatics. In the history of drama, Commedia dell’arte appears as the first form having professional companies, supporting the emergence of actresses playing female characters, and putting together various forms of performances (often, actors need to be able to sing, play an instrument, dance, jump, sword-fight, change costumes quickly, etc.). It stemmed from the streets of Italy and went on to entertain European kings and queens, a success in part due to the use of masks.
For fifteen years, Luca Franceschi and his company have been teaching Commedia Dell’Arte, and looking at various ways of merging their styles with other forms of drama. Over the last two years, Luca Franceschi has had frequent contact and exchanges with Chinese actors and audiences (notably during the Masked Drama Festival in Hong Kong). Throughout these exchanges, they were struck by the similarities between their style and Chinese opera — popular, similar basic character features, same physicality (masked or painted faces), same plots or reference stories — hence the idea of creating an original piece.
In Thursday’s show, an aesthetic confrontation between Beijing’s Opera and Italian Commedia dell’arte will serve as a stylistic background to the plot.
Show in French and Chinese
This Thursday, May 22nd, 7.15pm
Tianchan Yifu Theatre Centre
701 Fuzhou Lu, Shanghai
电话 : 021-53530054 / 021-63225294