Sparks Discussion: Beijing International Biennale

Oct 21, 2014

Participants perform during the Beijing International Biennale. Wang Jing / chinadaily.com.cn

Original feature published in ECNS.CN

In its third year, Beijing International Biennale, which was held from Oct 10 to 14 at the Central Academy of Drama in Beijing, aroused heated discussion.

With 63 students and professors from stage design departments in 16 countries, the event not only displayed works in an exhibition but also had students of mixed cultures working on one project under the theme, "Silk Road".

Each group of students displayed their works onstage on the last day of the Biennale and Yulia Pichugina, a student from the Moscow Academy of Theater Arts, won the top award, Best Young Designer, which was selected by a jury panel composed of members from the International Organization of Scenographers, Theatre Architects, and Technicians (OISTAT).

In the eyes of Sun Daqing, professor and director of the Stage Design Department at the Central Academy of Drama, who has been working in China's stage design field for over 20 years, the industry has developed very fast as the country's economy boomed during the past 10 years. However, he also said that some problems have hindered the future progress of the industry, especially when art has been way too commercialized and deviated from its core value.

"Stage design should work for the roles and stories but China's theater production has ignored it. Many stage design works, including costumes and lighting, focus on big-budget production and use of high technology to seek eyeballs," says Sun, who initiated the Biennale around four years ago to give a different perspective about theatrical art and design to young Chinese students by collaborating with OISTAT.

He also points out that Chinese students need to learn how to work as a team and share other people's ideas.

"We want students from different cultures, not only to see and learn from each other's works but also to work together," says Sun. "Stage designers, unlike other artists like painters or fashion designers, cannot work alone to achieve their ideal set. They have to figure out solutions together."

Wang Xiaojun, a 21-year-old student studying stage design at the Central Academy of Drama, has exhibited her work, a stage design model she made for the classic play, Secret Love in Peach Blossom Land.

During the Biennale, she was impressed by work from Alexis Lucio, a 22-year-old product designer and costume designer, who graduated from StanfordUniversity. Lucio made a bear for a friend's stage production, The Winter's Tale, in which she used an internal human operator. The idea of combing creativity for theater with engineering attracted Wang most.

"Chinese students tend to work on their own and have less chance to make their ideas real by working with performance production companies. I have worked with several classmates on two dramas last year, which were experiences I couldn"t get from class," says Wang.

Michael Ramsaur is a the former president of OISTAT President, a professor of lighting design at Stanford University and the Central Academy of Drama, and serves as honorary professor there and teaches in Shanghai. He gave Sun lots of support to make the Biennale happen.

"Chinese students used to be hesitant and shy about expressing their ideas and sharing with others. I noticed that during the past few years, they are fully participating in team projects, engaging with each other and negotiating," says Ramsaur. "I saw some interesting ideas in the Biennale this year."

"The experience is good, especially for young students who just began their artistic career," Ramsaur added.