Theater: Thrills to shake off the chills

Backstage with Elyse Ribbons: Bringing you a roundup of all the best theater shows this week – because variety is the spice of life.

This month we have been graced with rare blue skies and glorious autumnal weather that has me craving apple cider and pumpkin spiced coffees. However, the drop in temperature also brings with it a plethora of ganmao-like illnesses, so it’s still a good idea to spend the increasingly chilly evenings inside at a cozy little theater. So to help you keep warm this weekend, I’m bringing you several unique recommendations, from an interactive dance workshop, comedic stage antics and, last but not least, some classical cross-dressing Peking Opera with saphic overtones.

One of the best things about Beijing is the cosmopolitan arts and theater scene, not just in bringing in performance arts programming but also in the creation of new theatrical traditions by melding stage arts from all over the world. The Katsura Kan Butoh choreography workshops this weekend at La Plantation in Shunyi district is a perfect example. This is a form of dance that requires group choreography and focuses on the philosophy of Buddhist teaching from the Noble Eight-fold Path. This workshop will highlight techniques aimed at helping dancers “focus on the other side of your reality” and “listen to your noise”, and is suitable for beginners and advanced students. It might be a bit of a hike for downtown dwellers, but will certainly be worth the effort.

If dance workshops are beyond your energy levels (though, seriously, don’t be such a wimp … I’m writing this column with sprained wrists thanks to a Peking Opera injury), there are more sedentary options. For instance, why not see some Peking Opera? This Friday and Saturday, enjoy a nice cup of tea while watching The Female Prince at the Chang’an Grand Theater? This is an opera that doesn’t require much Mandarin, as the comedic plot (a woman dressing up like a man to marry the daughter of the emperor and save her husband’s life) will provide enough amusement to keep you laughing through the willowy arias and intricate dances. This huangmei-style opera has been touted by Sina’s review as “being of traditional beauty but also appealing to our modern aesthetics”.

Last but certainly not least, the reigning king of arthouse-style theatrical comedy, Meng Jinghui, is having one of his earlier plays –The Accidental Death of an Anarchist – restaged at Fengchao Theater at Dongzhimenwai Dajie until Oct 23. Translated from an Italian script, the play captures the comedic brilliance of the original, while bringing it up a notch with dramatic flair. Mixing traditions of commedia del arte and contemporary small-theater Chinese plays, this show is dialogue heavy, but has a lot of physical comedy that will help beginning Mandarin speakers enjoy the show. If that’s not intriguing enough, the play advertises itself as an ode to farts, and while fart jokes might seem immature, just remember that even Shakespeare made use of them in his plays.

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Read more from Elyse Ribbons on her blog, iheartbeijing.

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