By Sasha Selkirk
Acclaimed British visual theater company Idle Motion is coming to Guangzhou, bringing their original production Borges and I to the Guangzhou Opera House from August 29-31. A hefty 450 books appear on stage, contorted to create various objects from a flock of birds to a city.
“There is also a tango with the books,” says co-director Grace Chapman. “It’s lovely to hear the gasps from the audience when we transform a pile of books into a plane or a spiral staircase on stage. These combined with multimedia result in really striking visuals.”
Describing the show as “a beautiful musing on our relationships with books and the impact they have throughout our lives,” Chapman promises the show will appeal to more than literary lovers and fiction fanatics.
%Borges and I explores the life and work of Argentinean writer Jorge Luis Borges, a pioneer of the magical realism that shaped 20th-century Latin American literature, popularized by Gabriel García Márquez’s One Hundred Years of Solitude. It also tells the story of a young couple called Nick and Sophie who meet each other at a book group and fall in love.
“As the piece progresses, we learn that both Borges and Sophie will lose their sight. Despite the characters being in different centuries and countries, they share a love of literature and words. It is the loss of these through blindness and the books that matter most to them that unify the characters.”
For a man recorded to have said “People think life is the thing but I prefer reading,” the loss of Borges’ sight was a heart-wrenching defeat. It’s not all doom and gloom, however; the mood of the play oscillates between “moments of laughter and silliness as well as moments of real sadness and reflection.”
Its debut at the 2009 Edinburgh Fringe Festival resulted in sold-out shows and a coveted Total Theatre nomination for Best Emerging Company. Instant validation for a group that was officially founded two years earlier, but whose members first worked together as 14-year-olds attending school in Oxford.
“At the time it was a hobby and a way to spend our summer holidays,” reflects Chapman, who also serves as Idle Motion’s producer and company manager.
“From touring this show around the world, we’ve come to realize that this play appeals to so many different types of people on account of its visual nature and inventive staging. We didn’t realize this when we first made it but it explores universal themes that appeal to a wide audience and we’re thrilled to do this.”
The company has come a long way since Borges and I’s initial success. They’ve made three other shows that toured both nationally and internationally, including The Vanishing Horizon – a tribute to female aviation pioneers like Amelia Earhart that thrilled crowds in Beijing and Shanghai last year. They’re currently creating their sixth show, Shooting with Light, and plan to bring another production, This is All You Need to Know, to China in late October.
“When we first made Borges and I, we never dreamt that it would come to China,” Chapman says. “Whenever we think about it, we can’t quite believe it.”
The play’s sustained popularity since its knock-out debut is testament to its artistic grandeur; however, what you see on stage today is an entirely different specimen to the original, which continues to metamorphose from performance to performance.
“Our shows are constantly evolving,” says Chapman. “Every performance we will try something new, whether it’s saying a line differently or tightening up a scene change.”
// August 29-31, 8pm, RMB80-280. Experimental Theatre, Guangzhou Opera House, 1 Zhujiang Xi Lu, Zhujiang Xincheng, Tianhe District, Guangzhou 广州市天河区珠江新城珠江西路1号 (3839 2888, www.gzdjy.org)
This show is also taking place in Shenzhen. Click here for details.