‘Seed of the Image’: Image Metaphor as a Strategy of Creative Process and Ideological Resistance

In: Activating the Inanimate: Visual Vocabularies of Performance Practice

This chapter examines the idea of xing xiang zhong zi (seed of the image) proposed by renowned contemporary Chinese theatre director and educator Xu Xiao-Zhong (b.1928). Xu proposes utilizing the seed of the imagery as a directing strategy in which the director distils and formulates a seed of image through processes of analysing and interpreting the script, and envisioning the stage production. The director communicates the seed to artists contributing to different elements of the play – acting, set, lighting, costume, sound etc. – who then feed its growth into strands of imageries. The seed is a symbolic image generalizing the theme and interpretation for the production from which all concrete images on the stage will grow. In the rehearsal and production process, the director weaves and unifies these strands into a system of symbolisms, which enriches the layers of meanings and resonance of the stage production. Xu’s 1980 version of Macbeth produced soon after the Cultural Revolution is a key example of a production created through such a process, which is, until today, widely applied by established Chinese theatre directors, especially those who have been trained by Xu. Xu envisioned Macbeth as ‘the man, who could have become a hero, being destroyed by his own individual ambition, wonders, stumbles, and eventually drowns in whirlpools of blood.’ This chapter also places Xu’s idea of ‘seed of the image’ against the backdrop of Socialist Realism introduced into China through Russian theatre specialists as well as Revolutionary Model Opera which was the only form of theatre allowed during the Cultural Revolution, and investigate how the proposition serve as a strategy to circumvent the Chinese Communist state’s monopolistic ideologically driven power over interpretation, re-presentation and reception in theatre.

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