Spectacular, Spectacular: Large-Scale Performance in Contemporary China

Spectacular, Spectacular: Large-Scale Performance in Contemporary China

Presenter:Tarryn Li-Min Chun, LRCCS Postdoctoral Fellow
Date:Wednesday, March 8, 2017
Time:12 – 1 pm
Location:Koessler Room, Michigan League

From massive song-and-dance epics celebrating national holidays to the Opening Ceremony of the Beijing Olympics in 2008, contemporary Chinese culture has become known for large-scale performances and their spectacular displays of high-tech special effects. For the Opening Ceremony, for instance, dazzling graphics flashed across an enormous LED scroll and aerospace control systems were employed to monitor thousands upon thousands of performers. Likewise, numerous site-specific “real-scenery performances” (shijing yanchu 實景演出) at tourist destinations like West Lake in Hangzhou and Wutai Mountain in Shanxi project swirling patterns and candy-colored lights onto the environments in which they are situated. These theatrical productions become performances of technology, setting digital effects and computerized equipment on par with human actors and complicating concepts of live performance, natural landscape, and national culture.

The role of mechanical and digital technologies in live theater has been extensively discussed and theorized in relation to Euro-American theater. Yet, few scholars to date have considered the unique politics, economics, and aesthetics of parallel trends in East Asia. Tracing the rise to prominence of such phenomena in the PRC, this presentation will demonstrate that showcasing Chinese innovation has become a central concern of state-sponsored and commercial theatrical productions over the last fifteen years. In successfully doing so, large-scale performance has also established an aesthetic of technological excess as one of the key artistic modes of contemporary Chinese theater—one that dominates China’s main stages and incites critical responses from more avant-garde corners of the performing arts world.

Image:  Impression West Lake, Hangzhou (2007-present)
(Source: http://www.hzprivatetour.com/proshow.asp?id=87)

Tarryn Li-Min Chun is currently a postdoctoral fellow at the Lieberthal-Rogel Center for Chinese Studies at the University of Michigan. She received her Ph.D. in East Asian Languages and Civilizations from Harvard University in 2016. She also holds an M.A. in Regional Studies-East Asia from Harvard and an B.A. in East Asian Studies from Princeton University. Her research focuses on theater and performance in 20th-21st century China and Taiwan, and he current book project, “Staging Revolution and Resistance: Theater, Technology, and Media in Modern China,” explores the relationship between technological modernization and artistic innovation in Chinese theater and performance from the 1930s to the present.