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Gespräch

Was macht das Theater, Danny Yung? (Interview von Lena Dorte Eilers). Und ein Extratext auf Englisch: Danny Yung – Experimenting Traditions | Experimenting China

von und

Danny Yung, Sie haben vor ein paar Jahren mit „Black Box Exercise“ ein international tourendes Programm entwickelt, das zwischen Kunst und kultureller Bildung angesiedelt ist. Sie baten Teilnehmer, beispielsweise Studenten aus Hongkong und Dänemark, Gegenstände zu finden, die ihre Vorstellungen über das jeweils andere Land widerspiegeln. Was wäre Ihr Gegenstand für Deutschland?
Als Erstes würde ich die Stolpersteine nennen, diese in den Bürgersteig eingelassenen goldenen Gedenktafeln, welche an die jüdischen Menschen erinnern, die in den Häusern einst lebten. Sie erinnern den Passanten an die Geschichte der Stadt. Zweitens würde ich die Dinge nennen, die Leute auf die Straße stellen, um sie mit anderen zu teilen: Möbel, Bücher, Kleidung ... Die Leute werfen die Sachen nicht einfach weg, sondern stellen sie vor die Tür mit der Notiz „Zum Mitnehmen“. Diese Art des Teilens finde ich sehr schön.
Die Idee von „Black Box Exercise“ ist es zu fragen: Was ist so wichtig für Sie, dass Sie es mit anderen teilen wollen? Wie arrangieren Sie dieses Objekt, sodass klar wird, warum es wichtig ist? Das nächste Mal, wenn Sie sich in einem Museum ein Ausstellungsobjekt anschauen, werden Sie sehen, was dahinter steckt: Jemand hat es ausgewählt, arrangiert, kuratiert. Auf diese Weise kommen wir zu der Frage, was ein Museum ist, was es heißt, zu kuratieren.

Sie haben auch eine Figur namens Tian Tian erschaffen. Diese adaptiert ein Sprichwort aus der Zeit von Mao: „Jeden Tag schauen wir nach oben“ – ein Appell an Schulkinder. Ihre Figur indes sieht nicht einfach nur nach oben, sie hebt auch ihre Hand, als wolle sie intervenieren. Ist es im chinesischen Kontext nicht riskant, eine Art von Kunst zu machen, die Menschen inspirieren könnte, Einspruch zu erheben?
Sie spielen auf die Zensur an, die in China institutionalisiert ist, weil der Staat sehr genau überwachen möchte, was vor sich geht. Wir können die Regierungsinstitutionen nicht über Nacht ändern, aber wenn Kultureinrichtungen länger überleben als die politischen Institutionen, dann könnte es klappen. Mit Projekten wie „Black Box Exercise“ wollen wir den Dialog demokratisieren. Besucher, Eltern, Kinder, Lehrer, sie alle sollen die gleiche Plattform bekommen, alle haben eine Box für ihre Objekte, alle Boxen sind gleich groß. Diese Art von Dialog ist wichtig. In Museen bekommt man heutzutage jedoch den Eindruck, als wolle der Künstler oder Kurator die Zuschauer unterrichten oder zu ihnen predigen, er eröffnet keinen Dialog. Vielmehr heißt es: „Ich möchte dir vermitteln, was ich glaube.“ Es gibt kaum noch Raum für Zweifel und Kritik. Das ist momentan das Problem unserer Kunstinstitutionen.

Welche Rolle spielt der Künstler in diesem System?
Es wäre ein sehr viel klareres Statement, wenn der Künstler seine eigenen Formate erschaffen würde, seine eigene Art des Kuratierens, seine eigenen Institutionen. Ich stimme voll und ganz zu, wenn es heißt: Das System erschafft den Künstler oder der Künstler erschafft das System. Aber diese Balance gerät immer mehr aus dem Gleichgewicht, so dass es nur noch das System ist, das den Künstler erschafft. Natürlich arbeiten Künstler für das System, denn sonst würden sie nicht überleben.

Wie kann ein Künstler das System ändern?
Ich bin oft am Alexanderplatz und schaue mir die Straßenmusiker an. Man könnte sagen, sie machen Unterhaltung, weil sie unter einer Brücke stehen und Sound produzieren. Aber wenn du sie genauer betrachtest, kannst du sehen, dass sie sehr clever darin sind, den richtigen Platz auszuwählen – für den besten Sound. Wenn jetzt jemand käme und böte ihnen eine andere Bühne an, wäre das sofort etwas anderes. Theater wird erschaffen, es entsteht nicht, weil es einem angeboten wird. Natürlich kann man sich an das System anpassen. Aber wer noch gewillt ist, diese andere Art von Kunst zu machen, dann los! Gründet euer eigenes Theater, euer eigenes Kollektiv, erschafft euer eigenes Umfeld, euren eigenen Diskurs. Manchmal habe ich das Gefühl, dass die Theaterwissenschaft ganz schön hinterher hinkt …

Inwiefern?
Sie steckt fest in Beobachtungen wie: Dieser Schauspieler ist fantastisch, weil er diese und jene Zeilen, diesen und jenen Text so korrekt wiedergeben kann. Das ist Teil unseres Erbes, das ist auch ok, aber es wird nicht viel ändern. Berlin wächst, Künstler kommen, weil andere Künstler kommen. Das ist ein guter Anfang, aber vielleicht sollten die Leute darüber nachdenken, warum sie tun, was sie tun.

Ihr Stück „Flee by Night“ wird am 5. und 6. November in Berlin gezeigt. Es basiert auf einer 450 Jahre alten Geschichte, in der es um die Verantwortung des Künstlers geht. Welche Verantwortung hat ein Künstler heute?
In der Geschichte geht es um einen Regierungsbeamten, der darüber nachdenkt, das System zu verlassen. Aber wohin soll er gehen? Wird er ein neues System erschaffen? Oder in ein anderes System wechseln und sich den Rebellen anschließen? Er beschließt, sich den Rebellen anzuschließen. Nun müsste er jedoch über das Problem von Führungsstrukturen nachdenken. Aber muss man überhaupt in ein anderes System wechseln? Wäre es nicht auch möglich, unabhängig zu werden, ein eigenes System zu entwickeln? Aber wie entwickelt man sein eigenes System? Ich höre immer wieder Beschwerden über junge Politiker, die nicht tun, was sie tun sollen. Die Menschen haben hohe Erwartungen an sie, sie sollen die Welt verändern. Aber sind sie darauf wirklich vorbereitet? Wie viel Zeit gibt man ihnen? Was sind die Kriterien? Zynisch zu sein und zu sagen, sie tun nichts, ist einfach. Ich bin sehr daran interessiert, wie junge Menschen anfangen, sich in die Politik einzubringen. Es ist ein langer Lernprozess. Und vor allem bedarf es einer sehr konkreten Kritik. Das gilt auch für das Theater: Für seine Weiterentwicklung braucht es eine präzise Kritik.

Es gibt noch einen anderen Aspekt in diesem Stück und zwar das Verhältnis zwischen Lehrer und Schüler.
Ich interessiere mich sehr dafür, wie Menschen unterrichtet werden. Das Lehrer-Schüler-Verhältnis beeinflusst, wie Wissen weitergegeben wird. Es gab im alten Griechenland sehr viele Debatten zwischen Lehrern und Schülern. Warum gibt es diese Debatten heutzutage nicht mehr? Wie lassen sich diese Debatten neu anzetteln und wie könnte Theater dafür eine Plattform bilden?

Warum war es für Sie wichtig, mit dieser historischen Vorlage zu arbeiten?
Es gibt eine Geschichte hinter der Geschichte. Vor 14 Jahren traf ich Ke Jun, einen der Performer in dem Stück, zum ersten Mal. Er war damals ein berühmter Performer in der traditionellen chinesischen Kun-Oper. Ich fragte ihn, ob er Lust auf Kulturaustausch habe. Und er hatte Lust. Er hatte Lust, sein angestammtes System zu verlassen. Also reiste ich mit ihm nach Indien, nach Norwegen, nach Taiwan … Währenddessen fingen wir an, darüber zu diskutieren, warum er das macht, was er macht. Welchen Einfluss hat die Institution auf das, was er macht? Und was ist seine ganz eigene Vision? Seine berühmteste Arbeit war „Flee by night“, die traditionelle Version dieses alten Kun-Opern-Stücks. Also sagte ich: Ok, lass uns „Flee by night“ noch einmal neu einstudieren, es ist deine beste Arbeit, lass uns tiefer in die Bedeutung des Stückes eindringen und in die Frage, warum das Stück 450 Jahre lang überlebt hat.
Ich habe mir das Stück also nicht mit Absicht herausgesucht, es kam auf natürlichem Weg auf mich zu. Und natürlich: In „Flee by night“ geht es um das Verlassen des Systems. Das ist genau das, was in China gerade passiert. Das Land bewegt sich durch institutionelle Reformen. Viele denke darüber nach, ob sie das System verlassen und in ein anderes wechseln sollten.

Wie nehmen Sie die Diskussionen in Deutschland in Bezug auf die Flüchtlingsbewegung wahr?
Der humanitäre Aspekt ist wirklich bewundernswert. Aber ich frage mich schon: Helfen die Leute, weil sie wirklich daran glauben? Oder geht es nur um Aufmerksamkeit? Man muss sich bewusst sein, dass die Situation nicht einfach ist und viele Herausforderungen bereithält. Ich traf vor einiger Zeit einen Jugendlichen aus Syrien. Er ist Tänzer und erzählte, dass er sich von dem ersten Geld, dass er in Deutschland erhielt, ein iPhone kaufte. Dafür wurde er von einigen Leuten aus der deutschen Community scharf kritisiert. Die Leute verstehen nicht, wie wichtig Kommunikation ist für Menschen, die auf der Flucht sind. Dabei wäre dies ein wahres Verstehen – anstelle von Bevormundung. Möglicherweise können Migranten gesellschaftliche Entwicklungen positiv beeinflussen. Aber man muss schauen, wie man heute mit der Situation umgeht. Es bedarf neuer Interaktionen, man braucht neue Perspektiven, neue Energien. Normalerweise haben Einwanderer diese Energien.

Der Name Ihrer Kompanie heißt Zuni Icosahedron. Was bedeutet das?
Zuni ist ein Substantiv und ein Adjektiv. Als Substantiv bezeichnet es einen nordamerikanischen Indianerstamm, der nomadisch lebt, also immer unterwegs ist. Als Adjektiv bezeichnet das Wort eine Farbe, die zwischen Blau und Grün changiert. Icosahedron hat ebenfalls zwei Bedeutungen. Das Wort steht für eine geographische Form, aber es ist auch ein medizinischer Begriff für einen Virus, der sich sehr schnell verbreitet.

Für mich liegt darin auch ein künstlerisches Programm: Kunst, die sich im „Dazwischen“ aufhält, die immer beweglich bleibt.
Ja, in der Rückschau mag das stimmen, aber letztlich ist es auch nur ein Name. (lacht)

Welche Rolle spielen die Theater Ihrer Meinung nach in der derzeitigen Flüchtlingskrise?
Theater werden mehr und mehr soziale Angebote machen wie Theater als Therapie etc. Darüber hinaus fungiert es natürlich weiterhin als Ort des öffentlichen Dialogs. Einzelne geflohene Künstler werden, sobald sie in Deutschland wirklich angekommen sind, Theater als Plattform des Ausdrucks und als Laboratorium entdecken. Sie werden Theater machen, weil sie daran glaube und nicht, weil es subventioniert wird. Es ist wie bei Zuni Icosahedron: Die Gruppe war nie auf externe Unterstützung angewiesen. Viele Projekte, die ich initiiert habe, wurden zensiert. Die Zensur hat dafür gesorgt, dass wir uns andere Formen ausdenken mussten, jenseits der Black Box. Wenn es dir wirklich um ein Laboratorium geht, musst du selbst definieren, was Theater ist. Und du musst definieren, wer definiert, was Theater ist. So gelangt man zu vielen herausfordernden Überlegungen.
In den 90er Jahren realisierte die Regierung in Hongkong, dass sie Künstler, die sich derartige Fragen stellen, braucht. Es war ihre eigene politische Motivation zu sagen: Wir setzen auf Diversität. Die Regierung kam auf mich zu und diskutierte mit mir, wie man einen neuen Rat für die Förderung und Entwicklung der Künste erschaffen könnte. Mit Zuni als experimentelle Theatergruppe in die Entwicklung einer staatlichen Kunstinstitution involviert zu sein, ist nahezu unmöglich. Aber wir haben es aus vielen Gründen gemacht und wohl auch ganz gut hinbekommen. Ein Grund war, dass Hongkong zwischen 1984 bis 1997 durch eine Periode ging, in der die Frage im Raum stand, wie man mit der Rückgabe Honkongs an China umgehen sollte. Die Politisierung der Hongkonger während dieser 13 Jahre war einzigartig.

Worüber forschen Sie derzeit am Center for Interweaving Performance Cultures?
Ich interessiere mich sehr für das Center an sich. Ich beobachte die Art, wie es geleitet wird, die Organisationsstruktur, das Programm. Das Jahr 2020 bildet eine Zäsur. Die Frage wird sein, wie es mit dem Center weitergeht. Wir werden eine kleine Forschergruppe gründen, um die Rolle des Centers zu untersuchen, seinen Einfluss auf die Performancekunst weltweit. Ein solches Center ist eine wirklich wichtige Plattform, weil man hier eben auch über Kulturinstitutionen diskutieren kann. Wer leitet die Institutionen? Sind es Funktionäre? Oder Visionäre? Wie können die Institutionen dynamischer werden?
Theaterwissenschaftler sprechen oftmals nur über die Dinge, die auf der Bühne passieren, aber selten darüber, was hinter der Bühne passiert. Ich frage mich, ob es nicht auch Möglichkeiten gibt, über Kulturpolitik zu sprechen, über Kulturinstitutionen, Förderstrukturen, Kunsthochschulen, Curricula … Würden sie darüber sprechen, wären sie wirklich in der Lage zu sagen: Was ist der nächste Schritt? Das Center scheint offen genug zu sein für eine solche Agenda. Und ich hoffe wirklich, dass es weitermachen kann. Ich sehe keine vergleichbare Institution in Asien, Afrika, den USA oder Südamerika.

Danny Yung – Experimenting Traditions | Experimenting China
A dialogue between CAO Kefei and Danny Yung, the artistic director for Zuni Icosahedron

Step after step
They walk towards the light
Step closely after step
Passing through the ray of light
They walk into our stage
Tears of Barren Hill (2008, directed by Danny Yung)

Cao - Danny, you are visiting artist of the International Research Center of Free University in Berlin, could you share your views of Berlin and experiences of this cultural exchange activity?
Danny - In 2000, together with Haus der Kulturen der Welt, I organized a 5-week cultural exchange festival between Europe and Asia. When I look back, it appeared no more than a large scale “event”, however, friends in Berlin do not agree as they gathered the festival cast a vivid impression in people’s mind. After all, the effort puts in cultural exchange is not like setting fireworks but incessant hard work. It was sixteen years ago, the agenda of the festival touched on world cultural issues was ahead of time and unprecedented; and the wide range of areas covered arts and technology, creative industry, mechanism that fosters exchanges, talks, exhibitions, installation arts, conferences and workshops. At the same time, the festival showed to the world that Hong Kong was capable and had the potential to lead the coordination of global cultural agendas. Sixteen years passed, not much development was found in the global cultural agenda or the position of Hong Kong in it. Again, being disagreeable, friends in Berlin consider steady and new developments are found in Berlin. What about Hong Kong? Still awaiting new chapter to come?
I am interested in all kind of beginnings especially about those creative cultural organizations. The mission of Free University’s International Research Center “Interweaving Performance Cultures” is set on the synchronization and interaction between academic research and creative production which brings forth a platform for cross-cultural exchanges and researches. I find the center’s inception and existence invaluable and unprecedented. Supported by Germany Federal Education Ministry, the Center is operated under two six-year terms. Eight years passed, people who care about the development of performing arts treasure this platform which fosters in-depth dialogues between performing arts creations and academic researches. In addition, the Center provides rooms for dialectic debates that generates new cultural vision and prepares for a way-forward plan of actions.
During my stay in Berlin, I’ve given a talk to the directing students of Ernst Busch performing arts academy. I found the interaction part of the talk particularly meaningful since we have touched on the motivations behind creations. According to my observation, the students are neither much informed of what is going on outside Europe nor Berlin’s cultural policy and ecology. Having said that, I found their attitude shows that they are less Euro-centric than 16 years ago; that is a proof of evolution.

Cao - Which theater performances did you visit during your stay? Any observations or impressions?
Danny -
Far too less to come up with an impression, yet, I found the chance to get to know Berlin more in a relaxed way this time. I’d say, stages are everywhere outside of theaters, and exhibition places are everywhere outside of galleries in Berlin which is itself like a huge cultural center and museum. The visit to Ponderosa located in the north of Berlin impressed me. The huge vacated cement factory in that area provided me some creative thoughts. Speaking of which, it reminds me of the famed female impersonator in traditional Chinese theater (aka Chinese opera), Cheng Yanqiu, who spent a year in Berlin eighty-five years ago. That inspired my theater work, Tears of Barren Hill (2008), which was created out of Cheng’s cultural exchange experience in Berlin.
Creative talents are what that counts in Berlin’s arts and cultural scene. I am most happy and honored for meeting up with different artists and musicians that allowed various imaginative discussions on experimenting traditions. Not to mention the luck of running into the old buddy collaborators like HONG Sincha from Korea, Yoshiko Chuma from Japan/USA, Astad Deboo from India, Kuo Hengluen from Singapore, Mike van Graan from South Africa, et al. In Yoshiko Chuma’s workshop, I found the chance to meet some young emerging artists from Columbia, Syria, Spain, Italy and Israel; that was fun and that is Berlin!

Cao - In November this year, your theater work, Flee by Night, was invited by Akademie der Künste to be part of its big project Uncertain States. How would you describe the relevance of this classic work of traditional Chinese Kunqu theater for a German audience, and what kind of issues would you like to address through this performance?
Danny -The classic play of Flee by Night depicts the story of a martial art training official, Lin Chong, in Song Dynasty (1127-1279). One night, he decided to leave the corrupted bureau pitching in the opposing gang. In short, he runs away from a system for another one, turning himself from a government official into a refugee. The stories about the way he left the bureau, the way he ran to the gang, the idea of being an escapist or someone who runs for one’s dream, are all relevant to our discussions about refugees today. We take Flee by Night as the departure point to observe the shift of one’s identity and its uncertain states. In such a process, we started to observe history and politics, and what goes beyond that, for instance, body language, spatial arrangement and forms of narration in the context of history and politics. At the same time, we discuss what is “observation”, and that is the reason I added the role of the “stagehands”, the staff working at the side stage responsible for putting props on and off stage. The stagehand is also a member of the audience who watches the same production on stage many times from the side. In Flee by Night, the stagehand appears on stage as an observer, then turns into a performer followed by playing the role in the performance, finally resuming his role as a stagehand who observes.

Cao – For me Flee by Night is a rather abstract presentation. How does it relate to incidents in the Chinese history?
Danny - Chinese characters are ideograms; each character is a pictograph and a symbol, a line of these characters conjured up to the idea of montage. What is presented on stage is all about combinations and variations of pictographs and symbols that provide room for the audience for imagination. For those who are familiar with contemporary Chinese history might fall into the pigeonholes to relate what’s in the play as Chairman Mao or Chiang Kai-shek, the Revolutionary or the authority, pre-XXX generation or post-XXX generation, performer or observer, and performance or non-performance. I’ve adapted the symbolic set-up of one table and two chairs regularly used in traditional Chinese theaters to test the confine of imagination. That is, some people would read into the set-up of one table and two chairs as a distribution of authorities, some read like interaction on a fair ground, while some read it like political struggles or transition of our times. The two lead performers are of master and disciple relationship in reality, the construct between real-life stories and historical events between the two performers, and the system of passing on this dying art (Kunqu) between the master and disciple provided an entry point to the play Flee by Night. My attempt is to make use of this classical kunqu work to create an experimental platform carrying multiple-layer narrative structure with montage style.

Cao – Let´s say, German theater adopts the confrontational approach. Would you consider your work as still and calm?
Danny - I once had written an article on the way Germany reflected on the WWII experience that brought forth the later well-supported cultural policy, hence, nowadays a public sphere which allows dialectic debates among cultural, political and academic sectors is founded. A public sphere as such could not be found in China. After 1949, there were tons of problem in China. Cultural Ministry was bombarded by the pressing institutional reform that provided no room for reviewing culture from a broader perspective, and refrained from acknowledging the importance of culture over politics. In 1957, Cultural Ministry dared not speak up when those outspoken cultural practitioners were silenced; later on, even keeping the ideas in one’s mind might cause problem during Cultural Revolution. Would our history be re-written if the Cultural Minister was strong and tactic enough to open up such dialogue with Chairman Mao? Political movements in contemporary China were all related to cultural issues, yet, that pushed cultural practitioners to a ground of no confidence and righteousness. Looking at the history, Germany had made a clean move in openly reflecting on one’s deeds; it didn’t generally happen in China where theater is a tiny niche which casts no influence on China’s overall development, while Hong Kong carries least baggages in this case.

Cao – Are there any particular reasons for your preference in re-constructing the Chinese literature or classical texts, such as Book of Ghosts (1996, 2009), Outcast General (2005), Tears of Barren Hill (2008) and so on?
Danny - Classical scripts are a kind of alternative history, since it is alternative that made us more aware of looking at what we are reading. Some artists from mainland China once told me the reason for their preference of classical plays like Shakespeare’s over original plays is due to censorship issue. Yet, we have different opinions towards the authority of classical works. Besides the awareness mentioned above, when reading classical scripts, we are also reviewing the politics of reading, history and memory. The original script of Tears of Barren Hill was written in Republic of China period (1912-1949), while Outcast General and Flee by Night in Ming Dynasty (1368–1644), and Book of Ghosts in Yuan Dynasty (1279 – 1368) which was the first book documented musicians and artists of the time. Book of Ghosts inspired my theater work of the same title by its metaphors of artists as ghosts. Besides devoting my theater piece to documenting the artists of our time, the idea of critiquing on the concept of “documentation” was well in place too. Throughout the years, I have created different editions of Book of Ghosts, four traditional/contemporary performing artists from Beijing, Taipei, Jakarta and Bangkok were invited to take part in the latest production in 2009. In this edition, issues about artists’ identities and their positioning in the present society were explored, that was a contemporary Asian Book of Ghosts.
Outcast General depicts the famed general in Southern Song Dynasty (1127-1279) as a cunning master instead, who manipulated those young warriors under him, that corresponded to the earlier mentioned notion “reading alternate history from classical scripts” inspired my work of the same title. In Outcast General, I have tried to explore the concepts that constitutes the differences between documentation and reading the documentation, and between history and memory through the experimentation of synchronized interactions between the performers and its own projected digital images; an early attempt to adopt new technology in stage works by then.
Inspired by the same title in Peking opera of the 30s, a signature piece of the famous female impersonator CHENG Yanqiu, my Tears of Barren Hill attempted to draw attention on the importance of cross-cultural exchanges by making a case study out of Cheng’s study trip in Berlin in 1932-1933. Equally well-known and successful as his peer MEI Lanfang, CHENG made this Europe study trip purely out of his own interest that included personal visits to different theaters, hospitals, city halls, schools, churches, and so on. CHENG once made an impromptu act by singing an excerpt of Tears of Barren Hill in a church after attending a mass. Much inspired, CHENG prepared nineteen chapters of reports with extensive proposals on cultural development in China upon his returning home. I found this historical story much more meaningful than the original story of the classic script of Tears of Barren Hill. I have expanded CHENG’s singing part for the sake of discussing the contrast in culture between East and West, Germany and Europe; at the same time, making creative dialogues and exploration on the cultural side of Berlin and its ecology. Eighty-five years passed, I still find this issue very much relevant and is worth further explored.

Cao - Spoken theater in China came from the West. What kind of possibilities could bring the aesthetics of Chinese theater to the West?
Danny – In the past decade, I have been advocating the concept of “Experimenting Traditions”. By inviting classical/traditional performing artists from different countries of Asia to carry out various kind of exchanges, I’ve attempted to look for possible collaborations and development between the traditional and the contemporary, and looking into the aesthetics through cross-cultural comparative experiments among the wide spanned Asian cultures. To me, more importantly, it is to raise our awareness in what’s on- and off-stage; and care for critiques and transgressions in the process of creation and experimentation; in additions, placing equal emphasis on comparing the operational mode as well as cultural policy. Sincerely hope that we could compare notes about all these issues with the peer practitioners in Germany.

Cao – Your theater pieces are not constructed in the usual way of narration; they are mostly reconstructed through different theatrical means out of the deconstructed narrative structures. Could you share the way you structure a theater work?
Danny – From telegram to telephone, then email to mobile phone, the ever-progressing technology plays a crucial role in re-shaping our language and behavior, as well as the structure of our communications and narrations. To me, every single body movement, a line of lyrics, a posture and a fragment of storyline in the traditional theater where “alternative history” is kept, are all possible entry points for exploring the in-depth structural development of our language and communications in the context of the speedily changing tempo. When we go deep into de-constructing every single detail of different elements in traditional theaters, our concerns and challenges such as how technology plays a role in art will be brought into the picture. I am not particularly interested in classical stories since they appear overly inflated in the present political situation, and morally loaded too.

Cao – What does your proposed concepts of “Experimenting Traditions” and “Experimenting Theater” exactly mean?
Danny – To me, “theater” and “tradition” no longer function properly as public sphere when they are regulated. No matter it is “Experimenting Tradition” or “Experimenting Theater”, what I have been trying to do is to re-visit their origins and definitions, and to analyze their framework and the value behind. I gathered, when theater serves well as a public sphere, the process of de-constructing the existing theaters as well as public sphere will be supported continuously. The search of existing framework in the public sphere and theater is similar to the searches in our social, cultural and language systems. De-constructing framework shall come after comprehension, while comprehension comes after reading, and reading comes after critiquing. Bearing the spirit of experimentation in the process of comprehension, reading and critiquing is vital, yet, it is a very difficult task in the situation where politics and economy taking the lead.

Cao – Would it be fair to say that this experimentation spirit in theater is extended to the social level and the level of nation?
Danny – When we explore the concept of “performing arts”, we are actually discussing what is not “performing arts”, as well as the external phenomena such as its social environment and structure. The same applies to studying the concept of “theater”, it touches on what’s “non-theater”, and its context such as national policy that governs all operations. When the discussion comes to “society” and “country”, we read into its historical framework and the design of the frameworks.

Cao - In the present turbulent world, clashes of values are everywhere. German-speaking theater takes up the confrontational approach to intervene politics and economical orders; in addition, there are “experimental platforms” that allow alternative voices to be heard. What kind of perspectives and values could the Chinese culture provide?
Danny - The interesting thing in Asia is that one’s identity can be shifted easily, for instance, a theater director can be a producer tomorrow; an artistic director can be a cultural minister tomorrow and then returned to an artist later. It happened in Taiwan and Czech for instance, yet, it seems not so common in Germany. In theater, role change is a common and crucial practice; changes bring broader visions and invite critiques further.
When I curated One Table Two Chairs project in Haus der Kulturen der Welt, I had encountered some conflicts with the German team. One Table Two Chairs is a framework which could be the content itself. My idea was to invite artists from different cultural backgrounds to create a 20-min works in respond to this commonly used Chinese theater aesthetics, One table and two chairs on stage, in the hope of inspiring cross-cultural dialogues among the participating artists. The artistic coordinator of the German team believed that no framework should be given to artistic creations, otherwise it is considered infringing artistic freedom. In fact, providing some frameworks or conditions to artists might be more inspiring than restricting, that brings forth more interactions. Speaking of the concept of democracy, festivals here running under the practice of curatorship or artistic-directorship would not be democratic per se. This practice of providing framework to artistic creations tells the cultural differences between the East and the West.

Cao – Would it be the issue you brought up related to the highly-praised idea of “Individualism” in the western culture?
Danny – Seemingly the situation has been changed comparing to 16 years ago. At that time, quite a number of invited artists here were rather individualistic and absorbed into one’s own world without any room left for dialogues and interactions with others. If this was the idea of freedom, then it was a conditional one since it was granted by the curator. Freedom or democracy in that sense might be a pseudo-concept.

Cao – What kind of experiences and regrets did you earn from curating and organizing such a large-scale festival like Festival of Vision – Berlin/Hong Kong in 2000? What’s your view on cross-cultural and cross-genre artistic exchanges today? Do you have any plans for future?
Danny – Looking back, I’d say, there were too many programs and concepts but not enough follow-ups and dialectic discussions that all of the created art pieces deserved. Lacking of in-depth discussions were due to the fact that both Hong Kong and German partners were too excited and exhausted in materializing this collaboration, like 90% of our time was spent in its execution. The festival was well-received, people were amazed, rave reviews in German and French were obtained, yet, regrettably, it stopped there.
During the festival, I kept asking Hans-Georg Knopp, the Secretary General of Haus der Kulturen der Welt, what differences we would experience after this Festival of Vision – Berlin/Hong Kong? Would any changes be brought to the agenda of the two partner institutes (Hong Kong and Berlin) involved in organizing this Festival? Not long after the Festival, Hans-Georg took up the Secretary General of Goethe-Institut in Munich.

Cao – If you were invited again to curate the festival, what would you do?
Danny - Around 1997, before and after Hong Kong returning to China, we had lots of ideas about cultural development such as cross-genre art, cross-city, cross-culture initiatives. In 2000, we were very much concerned about the position of Hong Kong that we discussed about democracy, equality, interaction, creativity, cultural exchange and cultural industry; these were all related to culture, politics and economy, and are what we care about till today. In 2000, I had an expectation that art and cultural sector in Germany would continue with it. Looking back, my expectation might not be most realistic. After 2000, all these issues and concerns had been included in the agenda of the World Cultural Forum I organized in Brazil. It is a long story though.
If I were invited again to curate, I would not include over a dozen programmes in 5 weeks. If resources are sufficient, I would take up a gradual accumulation approach. In fact, this approach is reflected in the creative process of my theater work Flee by Night I developed in the whole past decade. That is through a theater work to discuss various subject matters gradually instead of putting out a grand cultural agenda of a city in a rush. That’s also the connection between Flee by Night and my prior theater work Tears of Barren Hill.
This summer, I was invited by Free University’s International Research Center “Interweaving Performance Cultures”, my time was spent on reflection and pondering over the issue of cultural exchange model between Germany and China, Berlin and Hong Kong, or Beijing and Shanghai. Cultural exchange is not about large-scale events but gradual accumulation through time.

Cao – In the present globalized world, ruling under “One Country Two Systems”, what advantages does Hong Kong possess in the area of cultural exchange?
Danny - After Hong Kong returned to China and ruled under One Country Two Systems, I think, it is an important opportunity for cultural diversity development and to develop Hong Kong into a global cultural laboratory. This laboratory is not restricted regionally but a global one that provides unprecedented space and opportunities for cultural dialectics. “One Country Two Systems” is an experiment, in my opinion, that provides opportunities for discussion and challenges on the cultural concept of what a “Nation” is. When the leaders of these two systems are visionary and with determination, this “One Country Two Systems” experiment might be able to re-position “Nation” in the cultural context and opening up a whole new world. At the same time, it might relax the border issues among different countries, and loosening up tension of the opposing forces in cultural differences issues.


Cao - One last question, what do you expect from the local audience seeing your Flee by Night at Akademie der Künste?
Danny – Before 1989, we didn’t do any curtain call for Zuni’s performances, performers went straight to the audience for exchange and discussion. Our concept was that performances actually begin before its beginning, stopped but not finished. The on-stage and off-stage exchanges are always the contents of our performances. In 1989, when we performed in New York City, local organizer convinced us to do curtain call in order to avoid being considered arrogant.
In November, I hope the audience attend Flee by Night would like to stay behind to discuss with us, or left us messages telling how do they think about the performance. If a platform could be built through this performance to explore the above-mentioned issues related to art, system and policy, and to make the exchange continues, that is my expectation. Speaking of which, I hope for the same for this interview, continuous dialogues are always what I care most.

Sept 2016, Berlin

Cao KeFei
Cao is a theater director and playwright living and working in both Berlin and Beijing. Cao has translated, scripted and directed several theater plays by European contemporary theater writers. Cao has curated and hosted a series of workshops and performances on and about European theaters. Theater works under Cao’s scriptwriting and direction had been shown in different festivals in Asia and Europe. In 2008, Cao co-founded Ladybird Theater Company with poet Zhou Zan in Beijing, and created some cross-over works in public space ever since. In 2013, Cao was the visiting professor at Giessen University. Recently, Cao has scripted and directed several documentary theater works in German-speaking countries. Her theater works included On the way, The power of the habit, Fire face, Endstation – Beijing, Strindberg’s love letters, The woman trying to destroy ceremony, Riding a roller coaster flying toward the future and Chang’e, etc. Besides, Cao co-created Together and In the middle of the sky with poet Duoduo in Germany and Switzerland.

Danny Yung
An experimental art pioneer, Danny Yung is a founding member and co-artistic director of Zuni Icosahedron, an epitome of experimental theater in Hong Kong since 1982.
After graduated from the University of California at Berkeley in architecture and from Columbia University in urban design, Yung has been deeply involved in the diverse artistic fields, including theatre, cartoon, film, video, and visual and installation art over the past 40 years. As director, scriptwriter, producer and stage designer, Yung has created over 100 theatrical productions, which were widely toured to over 30 cities in North America, Europe, and Asia. Yung has contributed significantly to the provision of different platforms (including One Table Two Chairs project since 1995) for both acclaimed and emerging art and cultural practitioners to explore and carry out cross-disciplinary and cross-cultural collaborations. On- and off-stage, Yung is a key player in the advocacy of cultural exchanges, cultural policy and creative education. Yung is the Chairperson of the Asia Pacific Alliance of World Cultural Forum, Convener of the Chinese Creative Industries Forum, Chairperson of the Hong Kong–Taipei–Shenzhen–Shanghai City-to-City Cultural Exchange Conference, Board Member of the Lee Shau Kee Hong Kong School of Creativity, Special Advisor (Academic) of Hong Kong Academy for Performing Arts, Member of Design Council of Hong Kong and the Board Member of the West Kowloon Cultural District Authority (2008-2014).
Yung is the recipient of the following prizes and awards: the Hong Kong Arts Development Award 2015 for Artist of the Year (Drama); The Fukuoka Prize – Arts and Culture Prize (2014); The Cross of the Order of Merit of the Federal Republic of Germany in recognition of Yung’s contributions towards the arts and the cultural exchange between Germany and Hong Kong (2009); The Music Theatre NOW Award presented by the UNESCO’s International Theatre Institute for his theater work Tears of Barren Hill. Yung was a fellow (2015/2016) of the International Research Center “Interweaving Performance Culture”, Berlin.

Translation from Chinese into English by YueWai Wong

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