The Melbourne International Arts Festival kicks off this Friday with, among other things, The Blue Dragon, the latest high-tech-high-art spectacle from famed French-Canadian director Robert Lepage.
It’s his sequel to The Dragons’ Trilogy, an auteur classic that established Lepage’s international reputation in the mid eighties. The Dragons’ Trilogy ended (after six hours) with Pierre Lamontagne, a character Lepage describes as his spiritual projection, leaving Canada to live in China. Here, twenty years later in this considerably shorter (1h. 45) production, we find Lamontagne (Henri Chassé) running an art gallery in Shanghai. He is also intimately involved with a young Chinese artist (Tai Wei Foo). The play takes off when Lamontagne’s ex-wife, Claire (Marie Michaud), shows up in Shanghai looking to adopt a child.
Tai Wei Foo trained in modern dance at the École de Danse de Québec. She also has extensive training in traditional Chinese dance forms. The Blue Dragon is her first experience as an actor.
We spoke with Tai Wei Foo, who also choreographed the three major dance sequences that feature in this production, as she was preparing to leave Singapore for Melbourne—
Big Blue Break
“I met Robert Lepage back in early September 2007 after a Chinese dance performance. We met each other at the artists’ entrance. So he bumped into me and said, ‘Well, why not come for an improv audition for this project.’ It was The Blue Dragon.”
“Acting is challenging for me because in dance you are more physical and we use the body to portray the image and tell the story. And in theatre it’s more like a dialogue, and the spaces are limited.
“It’s difficult for me because sometimes I tend toward big movements, until sometimes, maybe the assistant director [Félix Dagenais] might come on and tell me, ‘Hey, like, you don’t have to move that much because it’s not a dance.’ So, like, it’s the interaction with the eyes that tells a story.
“I got a lot of guidance from Marie and Robert and Henri and the team, helping me out with, just walking and talking, really.”
“I didn’t know at that time that choreography would be included. They didn’t tell me that dancing would be in the show. I just did theatre improvisations. They did ask me, you know, do you speak Mandarin Chinese, and I shared with them about Chinese culture, and I was like, yes I speak Mandarin and French and English. And later on when the creative process was underway, and he knew that I was doing traditional dance, it was at that point that he suggested to me, ‘Why don’t you do some choreography for the project and we’ll see how it goes.’
“So I showed them some different techniques, dances using different props, like fan, sword, handkerchief and long-sleeve dance. And Robert was like, ‘Well, I like the long sleeve, why don’t you keep that.’ And then we decided to include a contemporary piece, which we call the Revolutionary Dance, in the show and they asked me, so why don’t you create a choreography for that one.”
On Contemporary Dance and Traditional Dance
“It’s the first time I’ve choreographed this kind of contemporary dance. I’m not really totally trained in ballet, which it incorporates, so that dance is the most difficult and the most challenging. I mean to do the research and the timing was difficult.
“L’École de Danse de Québec teaches a mix of contemporary and ballet but they emphasise the modern. When I started training for ballet there I was like, um, 25, so, yeah, nuh-uh. All the other kids there had started when they were 12, so, yeah, I started pretty late for ballet.
“I find the differences between contemporary and traditional forms challenging. Sometimes in contemporary dance, there may be an emotion, but the body is emotionless. They go through their lines, they portray through lines and through spaces, and sometimes you can repeat the same movement for three minutes. That’s contemporary western dance. But for the eastern traditional forms, I can feel how every single movement has been refined by generations of Chinese women, by an ancient culture. Every single step you take, every movement, it has a meaning. It’s beautiful.”
“The dances in this play are very expressive. Robert was about the themes, but I am a lot about emotions. I think a lot with emotions. I work through forms looking for meaning, looking for the emotion. In each movement, I’m looking for a meaning to portray to the audience.”
Talking Zen with Robert Lepage
“Yes, we do talk about it and we did discuss it, because he has that interest.
“For me personally, I work a lot through Zen. In dance there must be a spirit which comes from inside that portrays the out. It’s not just the philosophy of Buddhism; for me there’s also the religion as well. It plays an important role.”
After the Dragon?
“I intend to build up my career as an actress because dance I think limits me, because I’m not young any more. In theatre, I’m still learning, even though I’m working, I’m touring with Robert right now, but it’s still a learning process.
“In five years, maybe I will focus on choreography but at this moment I am more interested in trying to get to a certain level where I feel I can create more.
“Now? I would love to work again with Ex Machina, working in Canada and Quebec.”
Venue: the Arts Centre, Playhouse
Dates: Fri 8 – Sat 9 Oct & Mon 11 – Tue 12 Oct at 8pm, Sat 9 Oct at 2pm, Sun 10 Oct at 6pm
Duration: 1hr 45 min no interval
Tickets from the Arts Centre or the Festival website.