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Huayi 2023: An Interview with Lee Yi-Hsiu and Hsu Shu-Hui of La Cie MaxMind

The most fragile of cultural heritage is often the intangible, lying in customs, traditions and art forms that need to be passed down from generation to generation for survival. And as time goes by, too many of these practices are lost.

Taiwanese arts company La Cie MaxMind hopes to preserve at least one of these traditions with the shows they put on. This week, they’re in Singapore to present their show The Drought Goddess · Dream of the World as part of the Esplanade’s 2023 Huayi – Chinese Festival of Arts. Inspired by the ancient Chinese myth of Hanba, the goddess of drought, The Drought Goddess · Dream of the World furthers the company’s mission of preserving and promoting traditional Nanguan and Beiguan music, combining it with dance, puppetry and an invented mythological language in one epic show.

Written and directed by Lee Yi-Hsiu, with live music composed by Hsu Shu-Hui, we spoke to these two creative forces behind La Cie MaxMind to find out more about the epic production before it arrives in Singapore. But even before that, the first question would be: what even is Nanguan and Beiguan music?

“Nanguan is a type of music originating from the Minnan people, and what you might know in Singapore as Nanyin, which is practiced by companies such as the Siong Leng Musical Association. Both Nanguan and Beiguan are traditional music forms that have been passed down in Taiwan for generations,” says Shu-Hui. “But while Nanguan is more slow, quiet and simple, giving this sense of peace, Beiguan has more excitement and adrenaline to it. When we combine the two and compose them together, it allows us to cover a wide range of expressions to fulfil our shows’ needs.”

La Cie MaxMind is specifically known for combining both music forms together, and takes it upon themselves to preserve them through their productions. “Taiwan doesn’t have many new shows that utilise Nanguan, and so we wanted to continue to incorporate this sound into our works, and mix it with all these other art forms to really create a spectacle,” says Yi-Hsiu. “Taiwanese people are very used to such mixing of art forms, like how they love musicals, and watching these traditional sounds combined with dance and puppetry, it really energises the form, and we hope that people become more aware of it and we can continue to keep it alive.”

On why they chose to adapt the Hanba myth specifically, Yi-Hsiu states his love for such stories, and how the music matches such tales from the past. “I love mythology, because these stories may be ancient, but still can express and capture a lot of contemporary thoughts and values,” he says. “If you see Hanba’s journey, it is one of abandonment after being ostracised, and how she has to continuously move and run away. Yet on this journey, she meets these fantastic creatures like elves and deities, and learns to understand all these different beings.”

“Even for audiences who aren’t familiar with the myth, it’s set so far back in the past, there’s almost something fresh about it, and something relatable that draws audience members in,” says Shu-Hui. “And even the music, because not many people will have heard Nanguan or Beiguan before, these match the ancient atmosphere, and it creates this sense of curiosity to find out more about such music.”

Bringing people into the world of the drought goddess isn’t just a case of the music and story alone though, and La Cie MaxMind has also ensured that other theatrical elements help prop up the story and immerse audiences. “We want to make it a storybook that’s come to life, which is why the colour scheme almost seems to resemble calligraphy paper, while the clothes seem to resemble ink,” says Yi-Hsiu. “The masks themselves take some inspiration from shaman culture, and are meant to evoke this sense of mysticism, as if gods come down to earth, while the choreography, by Eddie Lin, is meant to help it all come together.”

“This is a myth, but there are a lot of relatable elements that will resonate with audience members, all these different thoughts and feelings and ideas coming together, where people will be curious as the experience goes on,” says Shu-Hui. “Even when bringing the show to other countries, from Malaysia to the Avignon Off Festival in France, people were able to appreciate it despite not being familiar with it, and were really captivated this strange new, unique experience. And we hope that Singaporeans too will be able to enjoy this and find meaning in what we present.”

Photo Credit: La Cie MaxMind

The Drought Goddess · Dream of the World plays from 4th to 5th February 2023 at the Singtel Waterfront Theatre. Tickets available here

Huayi – Chinese Festival of Arts 2023 runs from 27th January to 5th February 2023 at the Esplanade. Full programme and lineup available here

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