Festival Theatre, Thu Sep 4
The 2014 OzAsia Festival kicked off in reflective-then-dramatic style with Red Sorghum, an epic dance show which promised meditations on love, affection and patriotism in China’s Shangdong province.
Set during the Second Sino-Japanese War of the 1930s and ‘40s, we follow the love story of Jiu’er (Meng Ning), a peasant sold to a winery lord, and her lover, known as My Grandfather (Fubo Sun) and after the unexpected death of the baron, we follow the pair’s rise on the property until the sudden horror of war descends on their doorstep.
Red Sorghum was certainly meditative, with a delicateness that verged on the soporific, and could have done with some tightening in the early scenes. But the second half commanded us to sit up and pay attention: much punchier, it foregrounded the war elements – which took the audience by surprise in their bloody, brutal nature as the male chorus marched defiantly into a scene starkly subtitled “Massacre”.
Ning was expressive and elegant, and created a convincing chemistry with the physical and powerful Sun as they danced to pre-recorded music.
Red Sorghum (sorghum bicolor) itself is a grain which provides food, wine and shelter and symbolises vitality and strength and steadfastness in the face of adversity. The show is based on Nobel Prize Laureate Mo Yan’s book Red Sorghum Clan, which began life as serialised short stories – a history which lent itself well to stage adaptation. The novel in turn was made into an award-winning film 1987, and the show was brought to Adelaide as part of the State Government’s association with Shandong Province.
Mo Yan’s work has drawn comparisons with Kafka and Heller and in the show there were even magical elements of Marukami in his hallucinatory blending of reality with folk lore. These elements at least explained the bizarre stilted narration in setting the scene. The bold stage sets were impressive, there were some deft comic touches and some winning slapstick, while the winery lord looked like a demented wheeler from Return To Oz.
We were unprepared therefore for the shattering assault on our senses reflecting the sudden emergence of the violence of war. In such a way the drama and emotion of military invasions was conveyed and the colours, imagery and powerful stayed with us long after the curtain came down.
by Jenny Thompson
The 1987 movie Red Sorghum, directed by Zhang Yimou, will screen at Mercury Cinema, Lion Arts Centre from 3.30pm on Sun Sep 14.