Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Legendary Marcel Marceau stands out in magical world of mime in his lifetime and even long after

By Nancy T. Lu

Of the many great performing artists who made an impact on their audience, the late Marcel Marceau (1923-2007) was a virtual giant. To watch him on the stage – with face painted white, lips colored red and eyes emphasized with black lines – was to love every moment of his performance.

No spectator could sit unmoved by the showmanship of this compleat artist. He harnessed his face, arms, legs and entire body to articulate a poetic idea or gem of thought. The depth of his perception of humanity was remarkable.

Laughter filled the hall wherever the great French mime performed. He made an adorable Bip clumsily trying to keep his balance on ice during a first attempt to skate. Or he affected the hilarious mannerisms of a train passenger struggling to keep his bearing and his suitcase on an overhead rack in a swaying train.

As a man on the verge of suicide, he considered taking poison but ended up relishing the drink. He eyed the rope as another possibility but ended up swinging his cord like a baton. As a samurai, he thought he could handle a sword but found himself having a hard time keeping the weapon from rising strangely by itself out of his scabbard.

Marcel Marceau sought not only to amuse his audience but also to give them some food for thought. Behind the veneer of foolishness and ludicrousness was always a suggestion of wisdom. He tended to philosophize a bit in his eloquent acts. 

Writer Nancy T. Lu meets Marcel Marceau in Taipei.

Every time Marcel Marceau came to Taipei years ago, he was prepared to bare his heart and soul. He readily warmed the hearts of his countless fans. Every pantomime in his program gave away his deep understanding of life and living.

The unforgettable storyteller turned heart eater in “Le mangeur de coeur” to reveal his insight of humanity. The mime with a title literally translated as “Heart Eater” told the story of a man who was searching for love. He decided to kill and eat hearts to find what he was looking for.

The character picked for his first victim was an evil man. The taste of the man’s heart did not appeal to him. For his second victim, he chose to devour the heart of a woman who had jilted him. The taste was much better but not quite what he was after. For his third try, he selected the heart of a child. The man found himself transformed into a child. He gave his own heart to the child so that the victim would live. As a result, life was snuffed out of the heart eater. 

According to Marcel Marceau himself, the mime called for a certain maturity in the performer. It required a lot of thinking. 


The mime artist needed a lot of experience to enter into the realm of fantasy. Marcel played a great deal with symbols. His acts were not always to be taken at face value. For this reason, he was fond of stories involving metamorphosis. His themes were often derived from literature. He incorporated ideas drawn from his readings into his works.

In “The Saber of the Samurai,” which was staged in Taipei, Marceau worked on the theme that the saber did not always mean the wielder was on the winning side.

Marceau revealed that he was fond of playing with mask changes. The transformation kept the audience wondering which was the real face. He frequently threw ideas to his spectators for them to reflect on. The scenarios raised unanswered questions. The conclusions were left to his mime fans.

Marceau confessed he turned to Chinese inspiration occasionally. In fact, he did not have a shortage of Chinese stories to tell. Marceau, for example, narrated a Taoist tale about a potbellied merchant who hired a coolie to take him and his heavy purchase to his destination. In return, he promised to give the coolie a big tip and three gems of wisdom.

Along the way, the poor coolie paused to catch his breath. The man finally gave his first advice: “It is more difficult to tell the truth than to lie.”

The trip continued. After a while, the coolie stopped again and asked for the second advice. The maxim he got went like this: “A man who is warned is worth two.”

Shortly the rickshaw driver asked about the contents of the package. He was told it contained “fine and precious things.”

After bringing the man to his destination and lugging the load with great difficulty up to the top floor of a building, the fellow was told the third and final advice: “If somebody tells you to carry a heavy load and promises to pay you a fat fee, do not believe him.”

Of the wisdom of age, Marceau remarked: “The older one grows, the better one becomes.”

Mime has a special affinity to Asian theater whether Chinese or Japanese, according to the legendary French mime. The masks and the movements in Japanese theater fascinated him. So did the movements in the Chinese opera. Even the “tai chi” motions are comparable to mime, he observed. Of special interest to him were the hand movements in the air.

Marceau’s program usually required the support of two assistants, often graduates of the three-year course at l’Ecole de Mimedrame Marcel Marceau in Paris. They helped create illusions with their hands. During his time, some 80 students from 20 different countries went for training at his school. Classical and modern dance, fencing, wielding a dagger as well as a baton were all part of the training. The mime students also mastered acrobatic skills. The main lessons though were naturally in the mime discipline taught by Marcel Marceau himself.

Every protégé of Marceau studied how to articulate his feelings, how to gracefully maintain balance, how to translate opposing forces like the Chinese yin and yang, how to dramatize contrasts, reminiscences as well as internal echoes of his life, how to let the virtuosity of his body and the sensitivity of his soul burst forth.

Marcel Marceau showed the art of a great mime through his portrayal of facets of humanity. Bip, a clown first presented by him in the Theatre de Poche in Paris in 1947, came to life on the international stage. “Bip Plays David and Goliath” and “Bip Commits Suicide” were numbers in his well-loved repertoire.

Marceau proved at his best when metamorphosing from one character to another. In “David and Goliath,” Bip emerged from one side of a screen as a puny David with his slingshot. He disappeared behind the screen only to make his reentry from the other side of the screen as a rough and brawny Goliath. His body language spoke out loud and clear in a world of silence. The shifts sometimes happened so fast. As a result, spectators began to believe that there were indeed two characters.

A 12-year-old fan once wrote Marcel Marceau in Paris after he fell ill and was operated on. The girl’s letter stood out in a pile of 500 mails from fans, all wishing him speedy recovery. She wrote: “I want Bip to live.” In the letter, she inserted a US$20 bill. Marceau, renowned for his emotion-filled acts, was greatly touched by the gesture.

 The aging Marceau once confessed his fear of flying. But his unforgettable visits to Taipei did not stop due to the overwhelming public clamor for his mime. Memories of Bip the Clown, wearing a hat with a quivering rose and standing like a ballet dancer before his adoring public, linger. He shone there on the stage with head held high. His arms moved with studied grace. Each time he made those graceful steps forward like a trained dancer, he was just beginning to sweep his admiring audience into the emotion-packed world of mime.

Monday, June 16, 2014

Renowned cardiologist William T. Chua amazes as inspired artist and sculptor


By Nancy T. Lu

Cardiologists generally look at the human heart strictly as a vital life-pumping organ with possible cardiac concerns for them to address as virtual plumbers and electricians. But Dr. William T. Chua 蔡景明, a renowned heart rhythm specialist with years of training and experience in electrophysiology, has taken his own doctor’s perception of the workings of the human heart to an exciting artistic level as seen in his collection of inspired paintings and sculpture pieces over the years.

Dr. Chua picked up the painting brush to become a true artist about 28 years ago. However, his doodling exercises began much earlier during his childhood days. He later even courted his wife with his drawings.

After building a reputation as a painter with a few successful shows to his name and special projects like the mural in the lobby of St. Luke’s Medical Center in Quezon City to his credit, he became fascinated with sculpture, a branch of the visual arts, three years ago. Since then, he has not stopped channeling his creative impulse and energy towards the creation of new shapes and forms during his spare time. In fact, he unveiled his monumental “Puso (Heart)” outside the Medical Arts Building of the Philippine Heart Center in late July last year. This landmark sculpture on East Avenue in Quezon City started out as a study created with television cables. Black iron pipes given a red urethane finish were tapped to make the final work of art with a black granite base.

Finding a life outside of his clinic and the hospitals where he makes his rounds seems to have kept this doctor with a kilowatt smile ever happy. His face truly lights up when he gets an opportunity to discuss his latest art activity with his famous artist friends among his cardiac patients like Romulo Galicano and Sofronio Y. Mendoza (more widely known as SYM). The late National Artist and leading Filipino painter Ang Kiu Kok at one point even emerged Dr. Chua’s personal mentor through his solicited critiques of the cardiologist’s paintings. Ang once painted over the doctor’s work completely. He obliged when Dr. Chua finally asked him to sign the painting for obvious reason. Advice from this teacher on the necessity of facing and solving problems encountered in a work in progress helped put the still groping Dr. Chua on the right track towards improvement and growth as a serious artist.

Although a late bloomer in the world of sculpture, the 64-year-old Dr. Chua deserves recognition in the field of sculptural art expression by virtue of his ability to subtly fuse his fantasy with the reality dictated by his medical profession. In his collection of fairly recent works of sculpture, he manifests a remarkable flair for giving new life and color to the subject of science and medicine.

Each crossover he makes from cardiology to art excites him. The artist in him goes ecstatic over female sexuality in “Eve’s Tricuspid” from his “Tangible Rhythms” collection. Three leaf-like shapes in this particular sculpture, while holding images of naked art, branch out gracefully on top of a tree given the surreally revealing curves of a woman. His fondness for foliage, which was previously noticed in his paintings, reappears in his sculpture.

Dr. Chua likewise contemplates the beauty of the nude female form and celebrates it sometimes in a provocative way as in “EKG Waveforms.” This work of art inspired by an electrocardiogram (ECG or EKG) interprets the rate and regularity of the heartbeat with eye-stopping effect. Elsewhere, his row of old painting brushes of uneven lengths in a much-used container gets perceived as a metaphor in “Art of ECG.”

As a highly-respected medical practitioner who is fully dedicated to the promotion of heart health, Dr. Chua pays extra attention to the ever-busy and stressed mitral valve of the heart. The bicuspid valve takes the seductive silhouette of a winged angel in his “Mitral Ring.” A golden loop, a reminder of the ring existing between the upper and lower chambers of the heart, hangs dramatically in suspended animation while highlighting a beautifully attenuated torso. Meanwhile his “Dancing Mitral” captures a ballet dancer on her toes. The artist’s cardiac ideas and thoughts just keep spinning off with surprising twists and turns to delight.

The sculptor introduces a fascinating maze to suggest what heart experts know as the Purkinje network in two pieces titled “Diastole” and ”Systole” respectively. The layman, however, does not need to dwell on the rest period nor the actively beating phase of the heart. Two abstract works of sculpture produced with a stretch of the imagination in Dr. Chua’s style invite puzzling labyrinthine exploration or simple art appreciation. A big decorative mural from the same art theme series hangs prominently in the reception area of the Health Cube in Greenhills, where the heart specialist holds clinic regularly.

Electric impulses conducted through the equivalent of electrical wirings in the human heart to keep it alive are a concern of Dr. Chua. He describes himself as an electrician who deals with the rhythm problem of the heart. Actual cables and wires from his everyday life enabled him to give a tangible dimension to the heartbeat or rhythm of the heart. Somewhere along the way, too, he discovered the possibility of making an art statement about “Escape Beat” through a juxtaposition of hardware stuff like screws as well as nuts and bolts culminating with an unlocked pair of handcuffs.