Time to talk today about the impressive opening ceremony which took place in the Park of the International Intangible Cultural Heritage, a huge leisure area in which the people of Chengdu often go on Sundays and on which stand several striking buildings for exhibitions, markets craft, stalls selling drinks, and where are displayed temporarily part of the pieces from the new Museum of Puppetry of the city, still under construction.
And I call it “impressive” because that was the comunal feeling for all viewers that filled the vast square in the center of the park. Flanked by local resident could well be estimated at several thousand people (five thousand, I was told later, which would add another fifty thousand who filled the park throughout the day), guests of the Congress of UNIMA and World Festival occupy rows of elegant upholstered seats, while in front of us sat in still more luxurious seats and with long tables decorated where there were drinks, ashtrays, pencils and papers, members of the Executive Board of UNIMA, with its President and Secretary General in the center and the local authorities of both the UNIMA China, Chengdu, and politicians of the city and the region’s cultural responsibility of Sichuan.
And in front of this picture surrounded by a crowd of television cameras and photographers, rose a gigantic stage with a high background and sides that were themselves huge screens for video projection. Towering columns of speakers ensured a good level of decibels, were obedient to the decisions of the sound technicians, who would not stop releasing music and harangues of small notifications in Chinese.
First came the speeches, one by one, mounted the speakers on stage always accompanied by lovely hostesses of beautiful bodies with tight dresses neckline double leg. The speeches were short by an intelligent and well-studied protocol (provided in Chinese and English), and quickly took action. The stage was emptied of microphones, flowers and representative objects, and a thundering music of the so-called “movie” rok rang Olympic rhythms, accompanied by a very talented group of dancers, with careful choreography that conveyed more than anything strength, vitality, modern spirit in the anglo-saxon sense, and a cheerful discipline. The atmosphere of almost disco music was suddenly substituted for traditional Chinese sound accompanying action of dancers with ribbons, scarves and umbrellas who achieved a poetic atmosphere, to make way for the entry of a special body of manipulators and dancers with puppets of diferent kinds of animals, including the panda, the local species that is used to symbolize the city and the region. It was a “cescendo” continuum of puppeteer animality who occupied the whole stage, with a extraordinary display of movement, choreography and colorfulness, with plenty of pandas running around. Monkey King also participated, with its magnificent feathers well manipulated by the puppeteer in charge of it. All accompanied with color images and breathtaking scenery projected onto the bottom and side screens. There was a particularly interesting visual play, a clear homage to Unima and their representatives, which combined the logos of the World Festival, a butterfly, with the stylized puppet of UNIMA.
Folowwing the scenes of animals, we were gifted with another show full of subtleties and accompanied by music full of poetic grace, that another body of dancers materialize with floral atmosphere and butterflies.
After this long exhibit, greeted with warm applause, began to appear the group of artists participating in the Festival with small esqueches and dancing to the beat of the music playing. Soon the stage was again filled but now with an exciting variety of shapes, masks and costumes of all sizes, ages and styles, and that was one of the most exciting times in the morning: giant puppets and silhouettes, rod, glove, wire and string marionettes filled the stage with color and excitement, wich was literally overflowed, spilling itself on the square up to the first ranks of the special guests spectacular flame throwers (humans and puppets), wonderfully long Chinese dragons handled by teams of about ten manipulators, Hindu god masks and a big orange German puppet who walked with long strides.
This part of the ceremony, certainly the longest and the more thrilling, ended with all the stage occupied by the different participants, who still continued to develop showy choreography in between local and foreign groups of puppets from around the world. It was an puppeteer apotheosis who raised the public of their seats and ended with a physical encounter between the two sides: when the music stopped, all the spectators were on the edge of the stage, looking closely at the various puppets and puppeteers who were showing their skills and colorful detail. Some signs carried by young hostesses indicated nationwide membership of each group. They were groups from Egypt, India, Japan, Korea, Australia, Russia, Germany, France, Italy, Netherlands, Vietnam, Iran, Mongolia, Spain, and many other countries, plus a countless puppeteers who came from all corners of China, from Hongkong and Taiwan to the most prominent autochthonous puppetry provinces (Beijing, Fujian, Shanghai …). By the way, very colorful and satisfied looked the group from Egypt, no doubt so happy to have pulled off dictatorship and have held democratic elections last week.
Shadow theatre silhouette, Chengdu Museum
The representation as a whole had dimensions that were able to combine the colossal with the detail, and its magnificence was such that one believed to be seeing the opening ceremony of the Olympic Games of the Puppets. I spoke later with some representatives from the Latino and Spanish-speaking, all agreeing how difficult if not impossible to organize something like that in our countries. Especially for the atomization of the puppetry world in general. But Miguel Arretxe summed it up well, who said quite rightly that each region has its own style, and not to compare countries and cultures when they are so different in so many ways.
What became clear is the Chinese desire to show visitors a force that is based on the collective, when it is linked to an organization based on logistics discipline and hierarchical order. And although sometimes reality exceeds expectations -as the great traffic jam that formed around the park and that became our second trip endless in the afternoon, or the massive pollution that covers the entire city as a gray cloud which does not leave transfer of sunlight-, it can be said that in general the most resounding success was the outcome of the event.
Heads with feathers, Chengdu Museum
After the show, we toured the rooms where they exhibeted some puppets and silhouettes for shadow theater of the fabulous Museum of Chengdu, now under renovation. Extraordinary pieces selected by Erica Luo, a research member of the Chengdu Museum and organizer of the exhibition.
Huan Wu-shan in action
In the afternoon we returned to the park to see some shows. The truth is that I could only attend one, but it paid off, because I was fortunate to attend a performance of Huan Wu-shan, from the Shan company of Taiwan, a superb glove puppet manipulator who performed solo accompanied by three live musicians. It was a delight to attend it. Wu-shan showed impeccable technique for handling a refinement rarely seen. You will notice a profound knowledge of the tradition, despite his youth, with various numbers of pure virtuosity of manipulation embroidered with extreme elegance and precision. An accurate definition of the characters, a superb game of comic character who falls asleep in a chair, then a hilarious battle between two warriors armed with sword and spear, with unprecedented control of the dolls and routines struggle. The public, young and old, responded enthusiastically, participating in the puppets scenes of universal style, and then with well-deserved applause.
In the evening, was held at the Jinjiang Hotel the expected Inaugural Banquet, with more speeches and participants of Unima Congress occupying large round tables. Brightness gastronomic night with constant toast between the tables and full of chat and conviviality. Key moments in such meetings, which serve more than anything for that: promote the knowledge and exchange among the guests.