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A roar beyond race

Updated: 2015-10-26 07:10
By Raymond Zhou (China Daily)

Taymor cited the backdrop of the rising sun in the show. Instead of projecting a film clip that would look naturalistic, she opted for small sticks and silk strips that formed a circle. They look crude on close examination, but when lit from the back, they come off as an atmospheric representation because the sun seems to shimmer in the air.

When discussing the absorption of international elements, Taymor cautioned me not to think of her way as the artistic equivalent of "the melting pot".

She considers the simple lifting of other cultures as "cultural colonialism" and would prefer to "retain cultural individuality". But she agrees with me that whatever sources of inspiration ultimately it has to be the artist's own feeling that comes out naturally in the work.

Even though The Lion King is a commercial juggernaut that has since become the top-earning title in box-office history for both stage productions and films, with over $6 billion in grosses and dozens of productions worldwide, she sees it as very "personal".

I challenged her with the scenario of an Asian artist doing The Lion King in the US. Would the use of indigenous cultural elements be viewed as peddling exotica to the West or promoting the artist's own culture?

She responds, "It's all about quality-whether it's moving and intellectually stimulating. The rest is just semantics. If I were Chinese and I had made The Lion King, it would be no different. My inspiration comes from what I see from African imagery, animals, the music and from my life experience. It wouldn't be The Lion King done by a different artist. That's the personal part of it."

Taymor is aware that some renowned Asian artists, such as Akira Kurosawa and Zhang Yimou, were criticized by their own countrymen for pandering to Western tastes.

"Films like Raise the Red Lantern and Ju Dou are beautiful films," she says. "A great work of art can touch any culture, anybody."

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