Abstract title: BETWEEN TRADITION AND THE CONTEMPORARY: AN EXPLORATION OF CHINESE SCENIC DESIGNERS
Numerous plays have reflected Chinese scenic designers’ tendency to actively search for visual themes from traditional Chinese culture that suit contemporary aesthetic standards. Chinese traditional culture has been restructured for application in contemporary scenic design. Questions regarding how scenic designers should, with originality, inherit and transform Chinese traditional culture within a contemporary aesthetic context and, within that process, how they should apply new theatre technologies, have come to the fore. The most representative works of Chinese scenic designers in the past decade often embody traditional Chinese aesthetics and temperaments in very expressive ways, transforming the conceptual beauty of traditional Chinese culture into contemporary forms in scenic design.
Zhao Yan develops this theme through the following chapter
TRADITIONAL Chinese Philosophy and Contemporary Scenic Design: The Harmony between Humanity and Nature, in which she discusses Xinglin Liu’s designs for The Peony Pavilion.
She explores the Concept of ‘Wholeness’ and ‘integrality’ in the Guangzhou Dramatic Arts Centre production of The Handan Dream which toured internationally in 2018 and how ‘the philosophy in I Ching has profound impacts on Chinese scenic designers’. She describes in particular the Beijing Modern and Contemporary Dance Company’s production of The Rite of Spring, designed by Guangjan Gao and Kedong Liu’s designs for Il Trovatore for the Hadeland Opera which literally use the Yin and Yang symbol in the stage design..
Zhao’s chapter entitled A Contemporary Transformation of Traditional Aesthetics starts with ’ the Ethereal Beauty of Conception’.
Traditional aesthetics also have a special appreciation for a combination of the virtual and the real which gives birth to conceptual beauty. For example, in traditional Chinese painting, drawn figures and white space complement each other, giving an ethereal quality to the work. The vacant and the occupied space coexist and affect each other mutually. This “negative space,” when applied to stage art by scenic designers, is not confined to what is left blank in space, but also how they choose to make use of the three dimensional “void.” Again she uses the designs of Xing Lin Liu and Kedong Liu to develop her argument, and finally considers the Contemporary Application of Traditional Visual Symbols within stage designs. Chinese scenic designers often use visual symbols from traditional Chinese culture to recreate the drama script. These include symbols represented in calligraphy, seal carving, chinaware, pottery, jade ware, bronzeware, textile art and embroidery. Throughout history, such art forms have evolved their own systems of meaning. The symbolic connotations of these systems are valued deeply within traditional aesthetics. On stage, especially in traditional opera, the value of the scenic design lies precisely in having its own complete, established system of language to comprehend, explain and portray its world of symbols.