Tag Archives: Beijing opera

Playing the maids…painted flowers and the dramaturgy of a skirt

A day of details, props, painting flowers and the dramaturgy of the skirt…

‘Playing the Maids’ takes as a starting point Jean Genet’s modernist drama ‘The Maids’. We are not doing a production of Genet’s text – it was the source material when starting the collaboration last September.

First edition with Mick O'Shea's sound desk puppet

First edition with Mick O’Shea’s sound desk puppet

Given our interest in the politics of power and intimacy, sibling rivalry, and the European austerity times and the boom in China and South East Asia, ‘The Maids’ was a fascinating source from which to begin exploring relationships and dynamics. As director Phillip Zarrilli put it – ‘who is it that’s smiling now?’

We have two sets of sister maids – Irish and South Korean – and one Chinese-Singaporean Madam, Jing Hong Okorn-Kuo. Jing explores notions of privilege and beauty through a morphing figure of the powerful and desirable ‘Madam.’ Her choreographic work is influenced by the representation of the female from sources as broad as favourite courtesan in Beijing opera to the tragic Western ballet ‘Swan Lake.’ This is where what Phillip coined ‘the dramaturgy of the skirt’ arose from – the progression of the changing costume of Madam, especially in the form of a long sarong Jing pleats and folds to create different effects.

We have incorporated new text and found ways of further including cellist Adrian Curin and sound artist Mick O’Shea. They are on stage throughout, creating the soundscape of this world, responding to the action. I find myself watching Adrian and Mick watching our Solanges, Claires and Madam, adjusting the musical score, breathing with the performers.

Aoife Bradley, Katrina Foley, Josephine Dennehy and Alan Dalton

Aoife Bradley, Katrina Foley, Josephine Dennehy and Alan Dalton

Supporting our intense rehearsal period is an efficient and enthusiastic small army of interns – Aoife Bradley, Katrina Foley, Josephine Dennehy and Alan Dalton – who I found merrily spray-painting silk flowers red, black, and white outside in this unexpected heatwave. We’re delighted to have them in the rehearsal room, observing part of a process usually taking place behind closed doors. It is a privilege to have the next generation of theatre makers and professionals with us on this journey.



Diary of a collaboration. Day 2.

Sunhee Kim and Jeungsook Yoo

Sunhee Kim and Jeungsook Yoo

Beijing opera. The theme tune for Father Ted. Adrian Curtin’s haiku. Korean traditional dance. Irish folk music. Bach. Cathleen ni Houlihan….

A second day of contrasts and diversity. The gathered ensemble of Irish, Singaporean Chinese, South Korean and American practitioners unpack and display ideas, sounds, music and influences, informed by certain themes from Genet’s The Maids. Jeungsook Yoo shows a courtesan dance from Korean traditional dance, Jing Okorn-Kuo sings the maiden song from Beijing Opera, Regina Crowley shares a Dolores Keane folk song…. all representations of a kind of ‘Madam’ – the beautiful, privileged one from our different cultures.

Again, I am astonished and thankful for the ease with which we collaborate. But it’s not by chance. The shared vocabulary in the psychophysical approach to actor training which director Phillip Zarrilli has developed, using T’ai Chi and Kalaripayyattu helps. All five performers have trained with Phillip over many years.

Jing, Bernie and Regina improvising

Jing, Bernie and Regina improvising

‘It’s a mode of being, of operation we share,’ Sunhee Kim says.

‘But the bottom line is the work,’ Jing adds. ‘It’s a great group of people who walk in to do the work. Having said that, Phillip’s training gives us tools to stay within that work, to deal with the ups and downs – and there always will be ups and downs.’

‘You’re grounded,’ Sunhee continues. ‘The training gives you a grounding and if you’re grounded, you can be moved by other dynamic. If you don’t have a sense of solid ground, you cannot be adventurous, because you’ll be scared about where you’ll end up. Having a practice makes you freer; you’re not rigid.’