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Review: The Drought Goddess · Dream of the World by La Cie MaxMind

A sacred myth and traditional music is brought into the present for new audiences.

The Chinese legend of Hanba is a tragic one, where the central drought goddess, after helping her celestial father win an epic war, loses her divinity and is banished to Earth. Forced to wander from village to village, she is shunned wherever she goes as she dries out the land with her presence, and spends years searching for a way back home to heaven.

While it may seem rather far-flung from our contemporary life, there is something compelling about La Cie MaxMind’s pared down theatrical adaptation of the myth that arrests you in its hypnotic, dreamy presentation. Written and directed by Lee Yi-Hsiu, The Drought Goddess · Dream of the World follows Hanba on her journey as she encounters various elves, humans and deities on her road home, only to discover that she may have the wrong idea this entire time.

One of the most important aspects of a La Cie MaxMind show is the music, with composer Hsu Shu-Hui combining traditional Nanguan and Beiguan music to craft a soundscape that harkens back to simpler times, with a touch of the otherworldly, as played by both Hsu, and musician Liao Han-Yu. Coupled with the mythological, made-up language based on traditional dialects that the cast speak in, and The Drought Goddess · Dream of the World ensures that its aural elements alone are enough to immerse audiences into its world.

In terms of its staging, The Drought Goddess · Dream of the World appears relatively simple, with almost no set, save for a an off-white, paper-hued streak, resembling Chinese scrolls, perhaps to further harken back to the ancient quality of the myth. The most compelling visual aspect of the show is perhaps the costumes and mask work, with cast members Shih Pi-Yu, Hsiao Chen-Chieh, Wang Shih-Chun dressed in dark robes, utilising stony masks and puppetry as they portray various creatures Hanba encounters, further enhancing the sense of the mystic. In many ways, they feel like ink paintings come to life, their movements fluid and entrancing.

While the plot does get repetitive after some time, The Drought Goddess · Dream of the World‘s still manages to make it clear its themes of prejudice and discrimination, and the difficulty of fitting in to a society which insists on rejecting you for who you are. Ultimately, it ends on a surprisingly poignant note, where Hanba finally realises that if the world chooses not to accept you, then you must reimagine it in your own image, and find your own path to thrive, rather than stick to the one already well-trodden.

Traditional in its form and inspiration, yet revolutionary in its conclusion, La Cie MaxMind has achieved the difficult task of toeing the fine line between classic and contemporary, reconciling the gap between the modern audience in presenting this ancient myth and music form. It feels as if we’ve witnessed an old style of storytelling given new life, and are left curious and hopeful that we too will find our way to flourish.

Photo Credit: La Cie MaxMind

The Drought Goddess · Dream of the World played from 4th to 5th February 2023 at the Singtel Waterfront Theatre. More information 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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