On January 10th, The Last Warrior Elephant, a puppet stage play produced by MG Performing Arts Group and Shanghai Puppet Theatre Co., Ltd., was staged amazingly at the NCPA.
On the afternoon, Director HE Nian gave an appearance with choreographer LIU Minzi to uncover the mysterious veil of the “warrior elephant” in front of media. Little elephant “Gasuo” also appeared and puppeteer XING Yi explained how difficult it was to play an “elephant”.
Director HE said, “The story moves me the most when it comes to a discussion on life. The old elephant, which has experienced the war, walks through a rainforest with the teenager that has grown up with it to its tomb to bid a farewell. That’s heart-touching. I want to use their experience to let people rethink about life and the special relationship between animals and humans.”
The undistorted puppet Asian elephants, big and small, has become a focus of attention on stage. Behind every lifelike “warrior elephant” on stage comes the hard work of puppeteers. Puppeteer XING Yi said, “It is extremely challenging to manipulate a little puppet elephant, since you have to move around on all fours to act out its emotional feelings in collaboration with other performers. For a big elephant, it has to be manipulated by three puppeteers in unison.” The warrior elephant on stage is made by high technology with traditional skills. As a giant puppet elephant 3.2m tall, it is almost designed by 1: 1 based on a real Asian elephant. The “warrior elephant’s” appearance has been modified many times, with different parts of its body, used to perform different actions, made of different materials such as carbon fibre, aluminium alloy, steel and rattan. Also, its muscles, bones, actions and structure are analyzed so that it would look like a “real one” when appearing on stage. The design and performance teams of Shanghai Puppet Theatre Co., Ltd. visited Xishuangbanna to have close contact with elephants to observe their emotions, expressions and actions. Then they started repetitious practicing. The puppeteers have to act in perfect unison without verbal communication or eye contact to move the warrior elephant’s head and body in concord. The puppeteer that bears the heaviest load needs to hold nearly fifty kilograms of tension on his shoulders.
Director HE escorted the whole performance with composer PENG Fei, set designer SHEN Li, choreographer LIU Minzi, lighting designer REN Dongsheng, recording director LU Xiaoxing and world-class teams such as 59 Productions, a multimedia design and production company from the United Kingdom. Not only did they challenge the limits of traditional Chinese puppet making technology and stage production, but they created an ink-wash painting-like magnificent stage picture by combining modern multimedia imaging technology with film shooting techniques. The splendid, shocking and poetic musical effects surprised the audience so much. A “heavy downpour of rain” on stage fit perfectly with soul-stirring but moving scenes, bringing the performance to a remarkable climax. The Last Warrior Elephant
will continue on until the 13th