Taiwanese puppetry maestro Chen Hsi-huang (陳錫煌) led his disciples on a special performance tour of Berlin from May 6 through 9, dazzling audiences with his deft maneuvering and demonstrations of a lesser-known type of "kungfu" from Asia.
The Chen Hsi-huang Traditional Glove Puppet Troupe (陳錫煌傳統掌中劇團) held two performances of "A Chance Encounter Leads to Marriage (巧遇姻緣)" at German cultural center ufa Fabrik, while the final performance was hosted by the Taipei Representative Office in the Federal Republic of Germany.
The 45-minute-long play was staged without additional narration, yet audiences encountered no language barriers as the storyline was clearly conveyed by the theatrical action of Chen's lively puppets. Unlike Germany's traditional string marionettes, Taiwanese glove puppetry are not attached to rods or rope, but still contain an expressive force equal to that of a human actor.
Troupe puppeteers also reserved time after each performance to answer questions from audience members by bringing different types of glove puppets to the front stage for people to examine with their own hands. This intimate setting made it possible for maestro Chen to carefully explain the intricacies of the play protagonist's signature moves, including the fan-opening, hair-brushing, and aerial-jumping maneuvers.
Shieh Jhy-wey (謝志偉), head of the Taipei Representative Office in the Federal Republic of Germany, praised maestro Chen for his sheer dedication, explaining that the 88-year-old embarked on this cross-continental voyage from Taipei to Berlin with only one purpose in mind — to share the joy and heritage of Taiwanese puppetry with more people around the world.
Chen is the eldest son of the iconic Taiwanese puppeteer Li Tian-lu (李天祿), whose actual life story was transformed into auteur Hou Hsiao-hsien's (侯孝賢) 1993 masterpiece "The Puppetmaster (戲夢人生)." Their last names differ, however, as Li married into the Chen clan, and his firstborn took on his mother's family name to continue that blood line.