Puppets get people hooked at Fujian festival

By Wang Kaihao and Hu Meidong in Quanzhou, Fujian ( China Daily ) Updated: 2015-11-17 10:06:10

Puppets get people hooked at Fujian festival

A German artist performs at the China Quanzhou International Puppet Festival. GUO HONGSONG/CHINA DAILY

It was a fiesta for puppets-those artful creatures that come to joyful life and overcome language barrier.

Last week, as a highlight of the 14th Asia Arts Festival, the 4th China Quanzhou International Puppet Festival took the stage at this port city of Fujian province, which is considered the country's biggest hub for this art form.

Marionettes first appeared in northern China more than 2,000 years ago. To escape war in the north, many artists moved to Quanzhou in the Tang Dynasty (AD 618-907), and the art of puppetry began to grow in the port city.

During the recent festival, 16 troupes from the Chinese mainland and Taiwan, plus nine troupes from abroad, presented 60 shows.

Quanzhou marionette was inscribed on the national intangible cultural heritage list in 2006. It has been performed in more than 60 countries.

Wang Jingxian, head of the Quanzhou Marionette Troupe, considers the communicative art of Chinese marionette and Western-style puppetry to be complementary and similarly engaging.

"Chinese marionette is perhaps better in performance technique in details due to its long history, but Western marionette is easier to mix in different art forms and have wide themes. Their creative spirits greatly inspire us," says Wang.

For example, Hector Lopez, a Brazilian puppeteer, got a lot of attention at the festival for using recycled garbage to create his marionettes, to promote energy-saving themes.

"What makes a style survive is that it has to own unique characteristics," Wang says. "Communication between different styles may nurture new forms, which is always welcome. But that never means one has to strictly learn from another. The copy will never surpass the original."

Wang cites Taiwan's hand puppetry, which originates from Fujian, as a successful example. Hand puppetry in Taiwan has less traditional elements than that in Fujian, but the region's earlier opening-up to Western modern art allowed it to embrace more influences from overseas, nurturing its rare features.

A sparkling opening performance at the festival by a "hippie" puppet dancing Gangnam style, from Taiwan-based Chu Luo Shan Puppet Troupe, wowed the audience.

Still, Wu Wan-cheng, director of the troupe, has some concerns. Most of his repertoire is adapted from ancient Chinese literature, while European performances are closer to people's daily life and mass entertainment, Wu says.

"Western troupes rely more on individual performances rather than large groups, which is more flexible to develop new shows."

Nevertheless, Wang considers group performances have their own advantages, creating incomparable scenes onstage and help to nurture high-level professionals on a larger scale.

Though it is the city's fourth time holding such a festival, it has been 15 years since the last one. Wang says he is embarrassed by the delay, but optimistic about the future.

"We're glad to see the government's cultural consciousness grow fast in recent years, which gives much more room for revival of traditional culture," Wang says.

A new marionette theater, covering more than 10,000 square meters, has just opened this year in the city, which is expected to bring more than 300 performances annually. The puppet art has been included in the syllabus of local elementary schools.

"Puppetry is a medium that now opens to all forms of art," says Jacques Trudeau, secretary-in-general of International Union of Marionette, a UNESCO affiliate.

"Technical aspects of Chinese puppetry are very well done," he adds, noting that the art is also evolving here after exposure to other forms.

"It's very important for adolescents to continue to go to theaters to get such reality, which film cannot give," he says.


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