TIAN WEN (天問—subtitled “Heavenly Questions for Modern Times”— is inspired by an ancient Chinese poem by an ancient Chinese philosopher, Zhuang Zhou (also known as Zhuangzi, 369-286BC). Zhuang Zhou dreamed of being a butterfly. Waking up from the dream, he wondered if he was dreaming of being a butterfly, or if a butterfly was dreaming of being Zhuang Zhou. The conception of the poem is “let it be”. By accepting things as they are rather than arguing what is real, we can obtain a truth beyond those distinctions.
The puppets, the costumes, and the stage sets used in the show are organic and simple. The cello played by Nan-Cheng Chen resonates and turns the studio into an mysterious world. The masks that the performers wear show fair and minimum expressions of smile, sadness, or anger. A puppet with a human face and butterfly wings comes onto the set and flutters from dream to dream: “Figure & Ballon”, “Paper Woman’s Nightmare”, “Who Are You?”, “Reunion Under Lion Mountain” and “Water”. Each dream offers a question. “How might we learn to accept our essential loneliness?” “Why does the focus on ourselves get in the way of knowing others?”
The vision of Hua Hua Zhang, the director and the performer, is imaginative and real, evocative and refined. Her intention is not to provide the viewers with her answers and her opinions. The performers from varied backgrounds perform to seek the answers with the audiences, or just to feel the common truth and feelings beyond any differences that we may have. The guest performing artist, Nai-No Chen is nothing but masterful in “Water” with graceful and fine movement.
The show would not give viewers easy answers. However, it gives them an opportunity to have new insights and think about achieving an ultimate life goal: happiness.
[Asian Arts Initiative, 1219 Vine Street] September 19-20, 2018; fringearts.com/event/天问-tian-wen-heavenly-questions-for-modern-times
TIAN WEN is a commissioned piece for the International Puppet Festival at La MaMa Theater of New York and will run November 3-5, 2018, as part of that festival.