IOTF 2023: Burn the Music

Written and Directed by He Shiyu, National Academy of Chinese Theatre Arts (NACTA, 2021), China

The National Academy of Chinese Theatre Arts brings its production of Burn the Music to this year’s IOTF, offering a timeless story of ambition for our current era.

Burn the Music, an immersive Kunqu Opera, “draws its story from the Chinese history of Anxi army, from the Tang dynasty. Instead of reproducing history, the artists perceive this as a chance to discuss a common topic — what do you do when the ambition is hard to fulfil? Do you go for it anyway, or just stay put and make peace with it?”

Masked performers are surrounded by a small audience who follow them around the space in this hour-long experimental Chinese opera. Moments of warfare, loss, and fantasy are all included in Burn the Music‘s tale.

The Kunqu opera is the oldest form of opera, performed to strict rules, but here made more inclusive by utilising observers who become complicit in the proceedings.

Promotional shot for Burn the Music

Confusion sometimes reigns as audiences seem unclear where to go and what to do. The immersive nature of the show means we, as online observers, feel a little remote and excluded at times, but we can also capture a different view from those present, as curated by He Shiyu’s direction.

This is more spectacle than show, but the music is ethereal and beautifully controlled, with excellent English subtitles. Costumes, lighting, and sound all add to the excellence of the piece.

I felt intrigued by what I saw, if not emotionally involved. However, this piece of filmed theatre underlines the power of the digital space to bring companies from around the world to the virtual stage.

All too short, Burn the Music is an experience that is clearly ambitious, and the crew of students in NACTA, “who devoted themselves to creating experimental Chinese Opera, trying to find a way for traditional art to revive and thrive in this new era” feel deeply committed to both the art form and the culture suurounding it.

You can watch Burn the Music for free until the end of April in the International Online Theatre Festival: details here.


Image credit: Guo Shijing

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