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5 must-see shows at Xintiandi's fringe theatre festival

One of China's most creative arts returns with a whole new line-up of immersive theatre, music and dance pieces in unusual spaces

Photograph: Gemma Tweedie
Originally designed to bring more foot traffic to a flagging retail area, in three years the Xintiandi Festival has evolved into one of China’s most creative arts events. Artistic director Crystal Deng must find and commission theatre, music and dance pieces that work in outdoor plazas, office buildings and on islands. This guarantees variety, and a focus on installations and immersive theatre in this blissfully walkable area. Running this year from June 8 through June 18, the festival has a number of strong pieces, but these are some highlights.
Melody Mirroring the Moon
Photograph: courtesy organisers

Melody Mirroring the Moon

Ancient Chinese composers often wrote with water and moonlight in mind, but Xintiandi updates the aesthetic by creating a giant moon installation on a Taiping Lake island, then choosing traditional musicians known for their experimentation. Celebrated guqin (traditional Chinese zither) artist Wu Na’s crossover work has featured jazz, rock, and experimental music, composer and performer Li Daguo’s panoramic training includes bluegrass and Finnish folk music which he applies to cello and pipa (Chinese lute), and zhongruan (Chinese banjo) player Wu Hongye is a recent graduate already racking up awards. 

Taiping Lake. Fri 8-Sat 9 Jun and Tue 12-Mon 18 Jun. 6.50-7.30pm. Free.

Creative Environmental Opera: Rediscovering Peking Opera – Emotions
Photograph: courtesy organisers

Creative Environmental Opera: Rediscovering Peking Opera – Emotions

One of last year’s standout pieces was the immersive Rediscovering Peking Opera; this year THEART Cultural Communication focuses on the emotions portrayed in this elusive art form. Backed with English subtitles, the characters demonstrate the different techniques and visual languages they use to project inner lives onstage. 

Xintiandi One. Tue 12-Fri 15 Jun. 7.50-8.50pm. Free (with reservation).

Ingo’s War
Photograph: courtesy Ditto Theatre Company

Ingo’s War

One of several strong family shows this festival (others include gorgeous illuminated life-sized horse puppets and stories told with bubbles), Ingo’s War presents the tale of a pampered, timid pet dog who has adventure thrust upon him. As World War II-era Londoners flee the city during the Blitz, Ingo gets separated from his young owner and is left behind on the train. Alone and frightened, he must face his own wartime challenges and find courage buried deep within. This fledgling company has already amassed awards and distinctions; Ditto Theatre Company also runs puppetry workshops and mentors young theatremakers. In English with Chinese Subtitles. 

Xintiandi Tent Theatre. Wed 13-Fri 15 Jun. 5.40-6.10pm, 8.30- 9.10pm. 100RMB.

Perhaps, Perhaps...Quizás
Photograph: Gemma Tweedie

Perhaps, Perhaps...Quizás

Mexican mime artist Gabriela Muñoz plays a ‘Miss Lonelyhearts’ of old, a young (or not) woman consumed with the idea of marriage. Muñoz wears a wedding dress, throws a bouquet, pulls helpers from the audience, and surrounds herself with a world of cakes and flowers. Witty, poignant, and at times heart wrenching, Perhaps has been touring abroad since 2010 and has won a mantle of awards. 

Open House. Thu 14-Mon 18 Jun. 7.45-8.45pm. 100RMB.

I Infinite
Photograph:  Barret Hodgson

I Infinite

The UK’s Tom Dale Company presents an immersive, nonverbal piece that casts a dancer in white against ever- changing graphic, cubic patterns on walls, ceilings and floors, all set to mesmerising electronica. Audiences can circle and wander through this digital world, changing their perspective and their experience. 

Xintiandi Tent Theatre. Fri 8-Tue 12 Jun. 2pm-2.45pm (Jun 10 only), 6.45-7.15pm, 9pm- 9.45pm. 100RMB.

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