Monday, December 19, 2005

Charming Quanzhou Marionettes (Part 2)

This is my third day watching Quanzhou Marionette Troupe’s performance. Today, they presented a show entitled “The Royal Inspectorate”, adapted from a Russian stage play. I’ve heard that this show had won awards before, and hence was really excited about watching it.

The performance started with a small play titled “Joyous Yuan Xiao Festival”. Amai, Miko and I have watched this small play on Friday night already, but for today, the puppeteers will be performing directly on stage and not behind the screen. The audience was watching with their eyes wide opened as it is an eye-opener seeing how the puppeteers manipulate their marionettes.

“Joyous Yuan Xiao Festival” is adapted from traditional marionette small play “Entering the City”. “Entering the City” tells about the tale of how some Liangshan heroes tried to sneak into the city while disguising themselves as street artisans. They tried to pass off as “Paixiong” dancers, “Lian Hua Luo” singers, acrobatic performers, street musicians and lion dance performers, and the guardian official of the city could not see through their disguise. For “Joyous Yuan Xiao Festival”, the main contents were more or less the same, except for the inclusion of a dance segment by 4 old ladies. This dance segment is a very unique act, as the marionettes used are actually two-in-one; at one point of the dance segment, these “old ladies” fell flat on the ground and within split seconds they transformed into beautiful maidens! When I first watched it on Friday night, I thought the puppeteers used 2 different marionettes for this trick, but today I realized that they were actually the same puppet, but one hidden inside the skirt of another.

The actual show started immediately after this segment. As compared to “Thrice Hitting the White Bone Demoness”, I like this show more. Although this is not a fighting show, there’s lots of humour and wit in this show, and the marionettes sprang into life under the manipulation of these skillful puppeteers. On the bad side, however, is that the show is entirely in Mandarin (Mandarin with a strong hint of Hokkien accent, that is!), and the music was all pre-recorded.

It’s my habit to not stay rooted in my seat, but go to the backstage to see the happenings behind the scene (not applicable for indoor performances) from time to time. And with my interest in photography, I grabbed the camera and made a few trips to the backstage. This place is equally interesting! The puppeteers were all standing on a high platform of about 2 metres manipulating the marionettes. I wonder how they managed to do that at such a great height, remembering which string is connected to which part of the marionette, and having to sing or talk at the same time. Also, the puppeteers had to co-ordinate well with his partner (usually you need two persons to manipulate one puppet for complex movements) for optimal stage effect.

Tomorrow shall be the last day of their performance, and I think it should be at least half a year more before I can get to see them in action again. Hopefully my Chinese opera performances will not clash with my puppet-watching routine then!

Sunday, December 18, 2005

Singapore's Chinese Newspaper

Recently I have been collecting newspaper cuttings related to my Chinese opera troupe and typing them out to be published onto the troupe's website.

However, the more I type, the more frustrated I become. Not because the typing job is tedious, but the amount of grammatical and naming errors I've found in these reports are really making me go crazy. I am no Chinese expert, and if I can spot such mistakes, then there must be something very wrong with them already! Being a leader in the news and media field in Singapore, how can such errors happen? And it is not just one or two, but almost every alternate newspaper cutting that I read, be it something published just recently or dated as far back as 1990. I thought they should at least be more professional and check through their reports thoroughly before they even send for print

Frankly speaking, I'm totally disappointed with the local Chinese newspaper that I just can't be bothered to read. Especially so when they're more like gossiping tabloids than a mainstream news provider! Now that I've seen these "silly mistakes", it makes me even more determined to stay clear from them. Hopefully I can finish all my current collection of newspaper cuttings fast and get them out of my sight!

Friday, December 16, 2005

Charming Quanzhou Marionettes

It was over a decade since Quanzhou Marionette Troupe came to Singapore. Yesterday night I had the chance to watch them perform live again at a temple in Defu Lane

Quanzhou marionette is one of the most popular form of puppetery in China, on par with Zhangzhou glove puppetery and Sichuan rod puppetery. In my opinion, marionettes are the hardest to control because you have to control the puppets' movements by their attached strings, and these strings are not short! The puppeteers do not just stand behind the backdrop and manipulate the puppets; they climb up a platform of 2 meters and control from the top

Yesterday's show was entitled "Thrice Hitting The White Bone Demoness". The story tells about Tripikata and his 3 disciples coming face to face with a demoness while on their journey to the West to retrieve holy scriptures. The White Bone Demoness transformed herself thrice into human form; a young lady, a middle-aged woman and an old man, trying to lure the monk out of the safety circle Sun Wukong has drawn on the ground to protect him. Sun Wukong could tell that these are transformations of the demoness and tried to kill them. Tripikata insisted that they were indeed human beings and that Wukong had commited a great sin. He decided to disown Wukong and send him back to his cave. However, Tripikata finally realised his mistake when he was later captured by the White Bone Demoness at a "temple" -- a trap set up by the White Bone Demoness. The White Bone Demoness sent her men to invite her mother, the Cicada Demoness, over for a feast on Tripikata flesh. Sun Wukong waylaid the gang, had them killed and impersonated the Demoness instead. He managed to get into the cave undetected, and soon after he saw his master, he revealed his true identity. After freeing Pigsy and Sandy, the trio fought together aganist the White Bone Demoness and her gang. The White Bone Demoness was no match against them and finally perished under Wukong's Palm of Fire.

Overall, I think the show was a success. The troupe managed to keep the audience captivated throughout their 2 1/2 hour performance with their entertaining storyline and puppetery acts. I think for puppet shows, it is important that the scripts are well chosen, as puppets are afterall lifeless pieces of wood and it'll bore the audience if they do not see anything entertaining happening on stage. I've seen another rod marionette troupe's performance earlier this year, and although the puppeteers has had the required skills to manipulate the marionettes, they chose the wrong show and hence lost their audience. What they showcased was their puppets trying to imitate Chinese opera stunts like horse whipping, beard swaying and hair swinging. For those who has had no Chinese opera knowlege, all these acts simply made no sense, especially when without a plot or any dialogues!

Another thing I like about them is they have a subtitle machine by the side of the stage. Although they were speaking and singing in Quanzhou accent, understanding of the show was made easy with their Chinese subtitles. However, there was something which I wasn't too happy with, and that was the skills of the puppeteers. I believe some of the puppeteers were still relatively young, hence their skills weren't as polished as those who came to Singapore previously. There were instances whereby the wrong string was pulled (leg string instead of the arm string). It wasn't exactly very obvious, but it simply doesn't look good either.

In short, this is a very entertaining show which I have long looked forward to. I hope I can still have the chance to catch them perform again real soon!

There were plans by the Hokkien Huay Kuan to invite the troupe over again next year during the Hokkien Festival to perform. However, details of this festival is still unknown as of now.

Monday, December 05, 2005

My Other Blog

It's been up for quite some time already, but I just realised that I haven't really announce the official launch of my other blog here! Either I was too busy or I simply forgot. Why another blog, you may ask. My other blog is dedicated solely on my main passion, Chinese opera. In it, I'll be writing reviews on Chinese opera shows which I've watched, be it DVD, VCD, VHS or live performance. I might also post up some latest happenings in the Chinese opera scene, but for such information, I might be slightly out-of-date as compared to some of my other friends like Amai.

Hence you see, this other blog of mine serves only a niche crowd, hence I have no intention of cramming everything into one blog, so as not to bore visitors who are not interested in Chinese opera at all! My new blog is titled "House of the Flying Watersleeves". Please note that it is not a spoof of "House of the Flying Daggers", nor does it have any connections/ associations with that movie! It's just a tongue-in-cheek name which I came up on the spot during registration for the blog. It sounds cheesy, but I like it! The URL to it is: