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A roar beyond race

By Raymond Zhou ( China Daily ) Updated: 2015-10-26 07:10:01

A roar beyond race

[Photo by Wang Xiaoying/China Daily]

The first time I saw the stage version of The Lion King-I was among the lucky few who, in 1997, did not book eight months in advance but waited in front of New York's New Amsterdam Theater and met someone who happened to have an extra ticket-I was struck by how Asian its aesthetics were.

As anyone who saw the film knows, the story is set on an African safari. So, the cast members for the stage production were mainly black and there was no surface element that would yell "Asian". But the way the story was presented onstage seemed to be rooted in Asian traditions, or so I thought.

Specifically, it was the small touches that would suggest the wilderness and richness of the environment. For example, a row of actresses wearing headpieces with grasses on top conjured up a vast expanse of grassland.

After the show, I read the background material. I found that Julie Taymor, the director, had studied puppetry in Japan and Indonesia. As a teenager, she spent time in India, Sri Lanka and France, where she was exposed to various art forms including mime.

Since I was not an expert on traditions of performing arts of all these and other countries, I thought it would be premature to conclude that her way had a definite Asian origin.

Questions that had bothered me for 18 years were answered when I got a chance to be part of a forum with Taymor as the guest at the latest Wuzhen Theater Festival, which I moderated, and a subsequent interview with her.

She frankly acknowledged the Asian influence, adding: "I feel I was born as an artist in Asia."

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