Wednesday, August 10, 2022

Once upon a time, “In a Garden in China”

For someone like me who has never been to China except through animated visuals, in Bruce Lee’s Enter the Dragon, or the Jet Li’s films, it was less likely that one would have escaped the thought, or shall we say the imagination, at least for a moment, that they were in Beijing.
But alas, it all took place at Westwood International School, and the actors were just jolly little figures, who exuded energy and innocence, perhaps inspired by their passion for ancient Chinese modesty and humility.

From the look of things, the conspicuously enchanted and largely adult audience who attended must have felt, like in some alien, possibly ancient Beijing, as they enthusiastically watched their little ones acting out a scene in distant time and place.

That was how mesmerizing the story of the willow of the pattern plate was, to the extent that the young kids who performed the play couldn’t appear or sound any less real than the characters they sought to impersonate, except they stimulated frequent bouts of laughter.

At the heart of the story was the predicament of Koong-Se, the beautiful daughter of a wealthy Chinese mandarin who bore a big belly which epitomized his status. What added to the humour was the fact that the person who acted the wealthy mandarin was in fact a young girl in a male outfit and false ink designed moustache (Kristen Lang).

Motivated both by tradition as by prestige or was it greed the wealthy mandarin wanted his daughter to marry a rich husband, but the daughter (acted by Ana Vranes) took no interest in money. In fact she was plain bored by the idea of a rich hubby.

Her father insisted that she meets some rich young men but as it were, she found them all vain and boring.

Then on one occasion, another rich man who was desirous of blending with Koong-Se arrived at the home of the mandarin, however to the greatest disappointment of the rich visitor, and bewilderment of the father Koong-Se still declined.

Instead, she fell in love with Chang who was a mere gardener at the palace; they often met secretly and quietly admired the beauty of the garden where she exposed the young beauty to the aroma of the most exotic and colorful flowers and roses.

Upon discovering that the duo has been meeting in secret, the mandarin was so outraged he banished Chang from the palace and imprisoned his daughter with guards to watch her.

During her imprisonment, the mandarin arranged Koong-Se’s wedding but the lovers escaped over a bridge to an island. They were hunted hunted down, and trapped in a small pagoda. At the height of his fury, the mandarin ordered that the pagoda be set on fire, but interestingly the garden spirits turned the lovers into immortal white birds and they flew away freely.

The colour of the stage clearly showed to have been a deliberated affair, encasing both an outlook of opulence typical of a wealthy man’s habitat on the one hand, and an amazingly salivating rosy garden.

In order to explain the secret behind such close to live scenario, Helen Barbera, one of the school teachers who organized and coordinated the play couldn’t conceal her delight with the outcome, and the response of the audience, mostly parents and well wishers.

She had this to say, “It has been particularly successful in developing the self-confidence of many of the children in the cast. ‘In A Garden in China’ has been a real team effort with many people involved in the organization and staging of the show as well as all the children in the upper primary section of the school.”

By every indication it was the result of lots of hard work but well worth while!
The motivation to choose this particular story according to Barbera was, “because I knew that it would be colorful and attractive on stage and also because the school already has good links with the Chinese Community in Gaborone and I knew that they would help us with props, costumes and so on.” One spectacle that almost reduced this one hour play to an unnoticeably very brief but exhilarating and memorable experience, were the beautiful melodies of the marimba drums. Add to that the bright refreshing red display of attire by the supporting mob of fellow students that spiced the event in between.


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