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September 25, 2017

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'Nanke Dream' of love

One of the plays collectively known as "Four Dreams" (傳奇) written by Chinese playwright Tang Xianzu (湯顯祖) during the late Ming Dynasty (1368–1644), "Nanke Dream" (南柯夢) portrays life in a dream state and probes deep into the threshold of human emotion.

The play, commonly translated as "A Dream Under the Southern Bough," could also be synonymous with stage director Wang Chia-ming's (王嘉明) passionate encounter with Kun Opera (崑曲), through which he aims to question "our perceptual distinction between reality and fantasy."

The plot could be summarized by a Buddhist teaching, "To dream in order to awake, to love in order to reach toward Buddhism" (夢了為覺、情了為佛), as the story begins with the dream of Chun Yufen, who gets drunk under a bough. In his dream, the discharged army officer enters an ant kingdom where he marries a princess and eventually becomes the prefecture chief of Nanke County. When his wife dies 20 years later, however, he is sent back to the real world just before the ant kingdom is washed away by a thunderstorm. After asking a Buddhist priest to release the suffering souls of the ants, he then attains nirvana and becomes a Buddha.

"Compared to Beijing Opera, which contains more references to classical Chinese literature, Kun Opera is closer to ordinary people's lives," Taishin Arts Award-winner Wang Chia-ming told The China Post. "Still, Kun Opera is in line with my vision of modern theater as it contains lots of advanced and experimental concepts."

For those who are not familiar with one of the oldest extant forms of Chinese opera, actor Chao Yu-tao (趙于濤) remarked that Kun actors would try to help the audience to visualize actions. "You just need a horsewhip and to straddle your legs to show that you are on a horse," he said.

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