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Journey to the West - Monkey King

The great Chinese epic, JOURNEY TO THE WEST by Internationally celebrated storyteller and author Diane Wolkstein and Anita Ratnam

Directed by Richard Armstrong
Choreography by Sat Hon

October 29 & 30, 2009 Long Island City, NY, 8pm
First public showing of Work in Progress
presented by CelebrateStory and the LaGuardia Performing Arts Center

The sixteenth century epic of Monkey: Journey to the West is known to every Chinese person, in Mainland China, Taiwan, and the diaspora. Monkey, born from a 356 foot round stone, sets out in search of immortality. Fourteen years of apprenticeship bring Monkey the skill of cloud somersaulting and an impenetrable body. He then tries to take over heaven but is defeated by Buddha. Five hundred years later, Kwan Yin, the Goddess of Compassion releases Monkey from his captivity so he might accompany a young monk to India to bring back the Buddhist scriptures. En route in this great rollicking tale they have adventure upon adventure, encounters with robbers, fiends, monsters, tigers, brigands, and treacherous women who would steal their powers. On the surface, the epic is a great adventure with the immortal Monkey whose supernatural powers put him in a league with Superman, or Batman. With the support of his compliant rod, he defeats tyrants, liberates the oppressed, and helps the needy. He also loses his temper at the slightest insult and has great difficulty obeying orders. His companion, Monk is a pure soul, ignorant in worldly matters, trembling before each tall mountain, tiger and brigand they meet.

Our presentation of Monkey offers the excitement of the journey while also focusing on the inner adventures of the protagonists. Monkey has gained immortal powers from studying with the Taoists; his first instincts are to triumph, to prevail. However, in his role as the monk’s protector, he runs into constant difficulties, for the Buddhist monk, cannot see the difference between fiend and friend and his loving heart would care for all, even those who would destroy them. Taoism - enlightenment of the self, and Buddhism - care for others, struggle toward integration during the journey. Equally relevant to our times is the struggle and eventual integration of the magician and the “saint”. The assertive, spontaneous magician Monkey, has great technical powers and would happily take over the world, while the submissive, pure Monk journeys with the intention of ending the suffering of all beings.

In our times, we have great technical knowledge, we know how to split the atom and clone; we also want to care for the whole planet. How do we integrate such matters?

"Monkey King is an epic, full of drama and magic, but it is also a hugely entertaining story. There are gods and goddesses, and ogres whose dining habits are both reprehensible and spectacular. And then, there is more: a deeply spiritual search for the Buddhist scriptures in the course of which selfish desire and a naive yearning for enlightenment often clash. Drama is blended with comic episodes as this sumptuous story fills the stage. Without digital images, or projector, or any of the usual trappings, the audience is offered the most vivid reality, and time passes with amazing speed. The result is a rich and satisfying evening at the theater."
- Olivier Bernier, Lecturer, Metropolitan Museum of Art

"I've seen Diane Wolkstein and Antia Ratnam perform part of Monkey King and I had a glimpse of eternity. They were opening the doors to the cosmos for her audience and allowing them to experience the healing power of story."
- Tracy Cochran, Editor, Parabola Magazine

"Diane Wolkstein's solo performance of Monkey King is a marvel. She is at the height of her career; every word, gesture and pause is exquisite. She is a consummate artist."
- Dr. Judith Pasamanick, Professor, Director, Folklore Institute, Bank St. College of Education

"... not only does Anita Ratnam astound with the variety of her movement and performance vocabulary, but also convincingly locates all human experience, even the banal, within a spiritual context."
- Veenapani Chawla, ADISAKTHI Theatre, Pondicherry


Photos: Ari Ress

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