August 7, 2021
The Romance of Three Kingdoms (三國演義) is a still popular 14th-century epic of classical Chinese literature (available in full in English online) by Luo Guanzhong (羅貫中). It runs to 800,000-plus words across 120 chapters as it romanticises and dramatises the lives of feudal lords and their retainers over a period of just over 100 years from 168 AD. Although full of swashbuckling adventures, its popularity is as much down to the personalities and their relationships. It’s been the inspiration for many films, television dramas, manga and video games, and dance in the shape of Fighters (五虎將) by Les Petites Choses Production (小事製作) Artistic Director, Sunny Yang (楊乃璇).
For Edinburgh, Yang has transformed her 40-minute stage fusion of martial arts, contemporary dance and hip hop into a handsome 14-minute work that’s very much towards the ‘screendance’ end of the spectrum. Filmed largely at the performers homes, it merges the original heroic and very gifted, you might even call them superhero, warriors played by the cast of five, with the real-life dancers who portray them.
It opens with shots of them asleep, like ancient soldiers waiting for the call for their services from the people of the world. That sets the scene for a beautifully moody yet strong section, although it would surely have helped if a translation of the words of storyteller Hsu Chi-kai (許騎凱) had been provided*.
At first, there’s a sense of anxiety, helplessness even. But then, having fully awoken, it’s as if they are preparing themselves in mind and body for the new battle ahead. Vivid red is everywhere: costumes (by Lin Po-chen, 林柏辰), drapes and banners. There’s a graceful intensity in the martial arts infused movement of all the dancers, although the scenes with Chen Yi-ju (陳薏如) on a rooftop are especially powerful.
That new battle will have to wait, however. There is no conclusion as such, although leaving things hanging somehow works.
It’s all superbly edited by film director Wu Hsiao-lu (吳曉蘆), who makes very effective use of split screens, close-ups, and shots from overhead and below. A special mention too for the music by Sam-Seng-Hiàn-Gé (三牲獻藝), like the dance in many ways, a sort of traditional folk meets modern techno combination that bridges past and present.
* We understand this may have been an issue with the specific link provided, and that subtitles are available to the public.
Fighters by Les Petites Choses Production is available on demand via www.summerhall.co.uk until August 29, 2021.
For details of other Taiwan Season productions and the online symposium, visit www.twseason-edfringe.com.