Over the Winter break and recent Chinese New year breaks, I managed to go to a wonderful range of performances and productions. It really was amazing to see how spaces, sets and mood were communicated through a range of styles and cultures. This blog will share a few things that occurred to me as I watched, and may inspire you to encourage your students to watch not only theatre performances to inspire their Director’s Notebook.

The Nutcracker Ballet at Hong Kong Cultural Centre: Set Design Ideas

This was a magical performance in many ways. Things that I took away that I would want to implement myself are:

The doll’s house was painted on a scrim that was downstage in front of the entire set. It was a curtain that flew in and when backlit was completely translucent. The director played with perspective so that when the scrim came down the dolls that we had seen in the sold structure of the doll’s house earlier could emerge as fully sized adults.

There was a parallel with the positioning of the Christmas tree. In the real house this was a huge real tree but when the scrim rose and we transitioned into the magical world of the doll’s house the tree was silver and artificial but positioned in the same location in the room.

The Legendary Swordsman: Aerial Work and Levels

This is a spectacle showing the amazingly rigorous training of the swordsman to be able to fight with swords but also train body to be at the peak of fitness. The training includes physical and mental strength. One of the most impressive scenes entailed the swordsman having a drink in a bar with a prospective component, and during the conversation, the tension between them rose. To complement the mood the table rises off the floor and tilts from side to side ending upside down, testing their strength to stay focussed and remain seated at the table. This idea of the moving set to reflect the dynamics of the scene is something I would want to use. There was a lot of aerial work for the love scenes and also the fights, which were beautifully choreographed. If one day I get to work with aerial artists, then this is something to consider.

Wagner’s Ring Cycle: Acting and Music

Recently, I was lucky enough (or crazy enough!) to go to see the fourth part of Wagner’s Ring Cycle. The section I saw was ‘Gotterdammerung’, the final part of the story which sees Siegfried given a love potion so that he falls in love with Gutrune and out of love with his beloved Brunnhilde. This is all part of Hagen’s wicked plan to get his hands on the ring. You can look up the rest of the story yourselves, but it really is complete drama!  The things that I took away from this were all to do with the opera style itself. The leitmotifs for each character kept on returning in different forms throughout the work and the singers added minimal movement and gesture to portray the story (this was not a complete production with costumes and set, only singers, orchestra and conductor). The use of minimal movement and facial expressions along with the driving force of the emotive music kept me on the edge of my seat for the majority of the 5-hour epic. It reminded me about the power of the leitmotif, which I am using at the moment in ‘The Tempest’ and also how powerful music can be to express mood and location, so that the movement, gesture and facial expression can be quite minimal to compliment it.