2018 FringeArts Festival Philadelphia Reviews:

September 24, 2018 by Eri Yoneda 

TIAN WEN —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.


Fringe in Sketch: TIAN WEN

September 27, 2018  by Chuck Schultz  

Tian Wen: Heavenly Questions for Modern Times uses modern dance and

the art of puppetry to thematically combine ancient Chinese art forms with

new hybrid movements from classical and contemporary dance.

The subject of modernity in the sculpture, music, puppets, and performers

heightened the natural aesthetic of a dreamscape. The symbolic elements mixed

proportions of reality in an imaginary realm. The method of dancing with the

puppets moved from the dreamer into another dream. The butterfly puppet

whizzed by, and new questions of other in an altered state altered state took over.

Hua Hua’s Visual Expressions mapped the dream, and involved acute

appropriations of pieces of the set that made the dream feel more real. The questions arise in a linear fashion from tribal art to underground ritual. Contemporary fabrics (paper or plastic) and an age old shadow effect felt methodical. By dancing, unclear details from a dream, became more significant through the sense of touch.

The “Figure and Balloon” questioned the position of loneliness. The sleep walking puppet bent over backwards onto the moon. The vivid dream was a question of belonging to the world. The “Figure and Balloon” directed by Hua Hua could have hidden meanings about floating away.

The live musical performance, played by Nan-Cheng Chen, blended into the surroundings. Chen either played the cello laying down or the cello player was part of the sculptural rock outcrops. The dimension of the physical space, sound, and the manipulation of paper and plastic addressed the earth, wind, or water.

The performers propelled an internal structure for emotion to act out in a dream. The forms in “Who Are We” or “Paper Women’s Nightmares” hid the body under costume. The forces which undulate underneath a rustling sheet of plastic or paper distorted the anatomy of the body. The modern world imagined through Freud’s scope questioned latent thoughts manifested in our dreams. The proportion of illusion and movement in the last piece, “Water” relates the heavenly question about our dreams to the meaning of other under a disguise.

Hua Hua’s Visual Expressions goes onto perform at La Mama in November. TAI WEN: HEAVENLY QUESTIONS FOR MODERN TIMES reinterprets Zhuang Zou’s poem which drew from Confucians writing in a satirical manner. There were many allusive meanings of family, honor, and wisdom that criticize the philosophers during the 4th century Warring State in China. The naturalist in Daoism brings out the controversy of judging virtue, piety, and truth.  Hua Hua brought out the interpretation of dreams recognized as a modern narrative.



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