Last night saw the kick-off of the Dutch Culture Nights with a screening of the documentary Inner Landscape. This was the first event of what will hopefully be a long-running series, where I get to share Dutch culture with my Chinese friends in Kunming and beyond. Wheatfield Bookstore kindly hosted the night and provided drinks and snacks. The event was sponsored by the Consulate of the Kingdom of the Netherlands in Chongqing.
Conducting to a different tune
Inner Landscape tells the story of a musical collaboration between Chinese composer Wen Guojan, Sichuan opera singer Shen Tiemei, Dutch classical conductor Frank Scheffer and musicians from both Chinese and western classical music traditions. The documentary asks the question – can an outsider ever truly understand and interpret another culture? A Dutch director and a Chinese producer made the film.
Sichuan opera – celebration or lament?
Inner Landscape details a long-running friendship and collaboration that is rooted in music. Over the span of the documentary we see glimpses of the long history of Sichuan opera. How it is part of the fabric and the landscape of Sichuan, and how it is slowly disappearing. There are moving shots of elderly performers and their equally old audiences in a small countryside theatre. Sichuan opera gains a modern interpretation and a fresh audience through the collaboration with director Frank Scheffer and the Amsterdam Nieuw Ensemble orchestra. The film ends with a performance in Amsterdam, for a mostly Dutch audience, and the sad message that the countryside theatre and troupe had ceased to exist during the making of the documentary.
More than 60 people squeezed into the cozy second-floor venue. Artists, students, friends, people of all ages. Consul-general Koen Sizoo officially opened the first Dutch Culture Night with a word of welcome. The audience watched the film with rapt attention.
Afterwards, there was a brief discussion. Several members of the audience asked thoughtful questions. I was touched by the sense that the Chinese audience could see that a part of their history was disappearing before their eyes, but also appreciative of how this friendship with a Dutch conductor gave the form a new spark. People mused on the notion of art forms that come and then go again, leaving little trace in history.
The discussion and thoughts continued on social media, sharing the sentiments with a wider circle of friends.
Watching with Dutch eyes
I was once again reminded of the great diversity in cultures within China, as people talked about the different musical traditions in Yunnan and the hope for similar cross-cultural collaborations. They viewed Sichuan opera as somewhat removed from their own local culture. For me it was a good reminder not to paint cultures with a broad brush but to zoom in and find the fine grain of local traditions and expressions.
Afterwards, we stayed and talked for a while longer in the pleasant surroundings of Wheatfield Bookstore.
There was one special star of the evening who deserves a mention – the kitten that lives in the bookstore was running around, only occasionally transfixed by the screen.
Next: China’s Van Goghs
The next Dutch Culture Night is also at Wheatfield Bookstore, on Thursday, October 15. A documentary related to the famous Dutch painter Vincent van Gogh will be screened. Just like Inner Landscape it has a link to Chinese artists.