National Kaohsiung Center for the Arts

Think Global, Act Local
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2018 / December

Cathy Teng /photos courtesy of National Kaohsiung Center for the Arts /tr. by Bruce Humes


With a façade that resembles a spacecraft from an alien planet, the design concept of the National Kao­hsiung Center for the Arts was inspired by nearby groves of old banyan trees with interwoven aerial roots. The center not only looks avant-garde, but the ambitions its management team have for the venue ­really rock too. They hope to grow a flower of performing arts in south Taiwan—once considered a cultural desert—and make their voice heard inter­nation­ally from the island’s southern tip.   

 


 

After a wait of some 15 years from planning to completion, the National Kao­hsiung Center for the Arts—aka Wei­wu­ying—opened to the public on October 15, 2018.

Speaking to the world

“In fact, for us this is really an historic day. All the preparations and every­one’s energetic collabora­tion notwithstanding, the crucial thing is to make our voice heard internationally,” says Chien Wen-pin, the center’s executive and artistic director.

Born in 1967, ­Chien went abroad for postgraduate study when he was 22, and at the age of just 30 was designated resident conductor of the ­Deutsche Oper am ­Rhein (“German Opera on the Rhine”)—one of the first Taiwanese to conduct a top-flight European orchestra. Fourteen years later, he obtained the tenured position of conductor-­in-residence with the same body. But at 47 he resigned from this permanent post to relocate to Kao­hsiung—long dubbed a “cultural desert”—and lead the National Kao­hsiung Center for the Arts.

“Making Taiwan’s voice heard on the inter­national stage was the motivation behind my ­return,” says ­Chien. “I had observed Taiwan’s plight from overseas for over 20 years, and this made me keen to return and do my bit for Taiwan.”

News of the center’s grand opening has spread like wildfire throughout Europe, and to date 70-plus foreign media have covered the center. For example, “Epic Scenes: The Biggest Arts Venue on Earth Lands in Taiwan” reads the headline in Britain’s prestigious daily The Guardian.

The exposure provided by this October’s opening cere­mony is not the only thing to capture global attention for the center. World premieres of productions of Turandot and Paradise Interrupted, international undertakings in which the center participated, took place in 2015. Inspired by 16th-century Chinese dramatist Tang ­Xianzu’s acclaimed ­Kunqu opera Peony Pavilion, the one-act Paradise Interrupted was coproduced by the National Kao­hsiung Center for the Arts, the Lincoln Center of the United States, Spoleto Festival USA and the Singapore International Fest­ival of Arts. But the behind-the-scenes production team for the Taiwan‡German coproduction of Turandot—from dir­ector Li Huan-­hsiung to costume designer Lai ­Hsuan-wu, stage designer ­Liang Jo­shan and video designer Wang Jun-jieh—are all natives of Taiwan.

Creating Southern Taiwan’s performing arts ecology

After graduating from university, ­Chien went abroad for further study and resided in Europe for almost three decades. He has spent more of his life overseas than in Taiwan. He often heard Kao­hsiung described as a cultural desert, a term he considers a “myth.” But as a venue operator, ­Chien comments: “We just have to take the market for what it is, accept it, and then ‘consider what we can do with it.’”

“Why can’t we nurture a performing arts style that belongs to Kao­hsiung?” he wonders.

As regards market development, ­Chien believes that at this stage the important thing is to draw the public in to personally experience the venue. He also refers to the cultivation of Kao­hsiung’s arts market as an “ongoing creative work.” In his opinion, Kao­hsiung is Kao­hsiung; it isn’t Tai­pei and needn’t try to be. Instead, creating a ­southern Taiwan performing arts style is in order. In terms of managing the venue, “Seeing an endless stream of people coming to the center, making optimal use of the space—that’s what matters to me.”

To this end, while preparing for the official opening he brainstormed with his partners. All the customary etiquette employed in a performance venue was open to discussion, including how to guide audiences in appreciating performances, the style of interaction with visitors, audience dress code, vocabulary, dialect, terms of address, and so forth. Just because something is done a certain way in Tai­pei, doesn’t mean Kao­hsiung must follow suit. As an example, he jokes about the typical Kao­hsiung motor­cyclist’s habit of directly turning left at an inter­section, instead of obediently proceeding to a “left-turn box” and awaiting a green light as Taiwan’s traffic regu­lations demand. When dealing with a Kao­­hsiung audience, there is naturally no need to make things sound complicated; the people you are serving are different, and therefore the way in which you serve them should be adjusted to a format that is genuinely appropriate for locals.

“For me, this is a major creative undertaking. It’s not a matter of efficiency above all. It’s about creating a performing arts ‘ecosystem’ that is centered around Kao­hsiung,” emphasizes Chien.

“Everyone’s Art Center”

In 2015, ­Chien proclaimed “Every­one’s Art Center” as the center’s positioning.

This slogan echoes the design concept of the center’s Dutch architect, Francine Houben. Inspired by the local banyan trees, she designed a flat roof consisting of a single undu­lating structure that resembles the canopy of a grove of the iconic trees. Hollow spaces formed within the interwoven aer­ial roots became passages and resting spots under the roof. Light radiates inside via skylights, mimicking the ambiance of sunlight filtering through treetops. Meanwhile, the network of linked ramps and municipal park pathways surrounding the center natur­ally channels the public into Banyan Plaza, where they can enjoy the comforts of this semi-outdoor space. 

Under the streamlined roof, the interior space consists of four venues: the Concert Hall, the Recital Hall, the Opera House and the Play House.

The Concert Hall is the only one in Taiwan to adopt a “vineyard-­style” design, in which the performers are entirely surrounded by the audience. Berlin Philharmonic Hall, Walt Disney Concert Hall (Los Angeles), Suntory Hall (Tokyo), and Paris Philharmonic Hall all feature a similar design.

As a performance venue for chamber music and recitals, to obtain optimal acoustics the walls of the Recital Hall are lined with sound-reflecting wooden panels, with sound-absorbing drapery behind rhombic openings in the panels around the upper half.
The Opera House is the largest theater in Taiwan. Domin­ated by the color “Taiwan Red,” the horseshoe-shaped seating layout can accommodate audiences of up to 2,260 people.

The Play House is decorated mainly in Delft blue. Depending on the demands of a specific performance, the stage can be configured as a single-sided framed stage or a projecting three-sided stage. The latter positions the audience close to the performers, allowing theatergoers to experience the tension of the drama more intensely.

Southern Taiwan certainly deserves to enjoy world-class performance venues, but Chien does not wish for art to be put up on a pedestal. “I hope this will become a ‘place’ where every­one likes to come, and not a ‘temple.’” So they organize activities in Banyan Plaza such as inviting people to practice yoga or for children to play on swings. They have also organized movie screenings that allow spectators to recline casually in Banyan Plaza while watching a movie projected onto the curved steel-plate wall.

While strolling in the center’s “Time Gallery,” I read the detailed history of Wei­wu­ying, and only then did I learn that this vast space served as a key military site from the Qing Dynasty through the era of Japanese rule and beyond. In 1979 the military relinquished claims to it, and in 1992 the Wei­wu­ying Metropolitan Park Promotion Association, founded by poet and physician Dr. ­Tseng Kui-hai, promoted the site’s conversion into a muni­cipal park. In 2003, the central government approved the “Weiwuying Art and Culture Center” plan, reserving ten hectares of land within the park for the art center, which was completed in 2018. As stated by President Tsai Ing-wen at the grand opening ceremony, its completion represents the fruits of efforts to strive for cultural equality and liberate space in the post-martial-law era.

Let’s party

The center’s opening season runs for two and a half months, and the programs chosen represent the fruits of the past three years of effort by the management team at the Wei­wu­ying preparatory office. Since 2015, the Kao­hsiung City Government has staged the Kao­hsiung Spring Arts Festival in the first half of each year, while the Wei­wu­ying team has organ­ized the Wei­wu­ying Children’s Festival and the Wei­wu­ying Arts Festival in the latter half of each year. Kao­hsiung’s art and culture audience has been gradually nurtured. Especially worth mentioning are the Wei­wu­ying Circus Platform and the Taiwan Dance Platform, both inaugur­ated in 2016. The annual circus platform is a venue where circus performers can interact. The Taiwan Dance Platform has also entered into a partnership with Aerowaves, a European networking platform for young choreo­graphers, thereby becoming the first organization in Asia to formalize col­labora­tion with that body.

If a musical metaphor can be used to describe the center, ­Chien doesn’t hesitate to put it like this: “Of course, it’s a symphony!” All kinds of musical instruments have their place in a symphonic composition, just like the center’s stage exists for all sorts of people. Each person can find his or her own place here. 

“The center is so massive that we really must rely on every­one to shoulder it together,” insists ­Chien. “And as ‘Everyone’s Art Center,’ on another level of meaning it signifies that all of us must grow together.”

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既國際又在地

文‧鄧慧純 圖‧衛武營國家藝術文化中心

外型像是來自外星球的太空船,但設計概念卻是從高雄當地根鬚盤錯的老榕樹群得到靈感,「衛武營國家藝術文化中心」不僅外觀很前衛,營運團隊要做的事情也很搖滾,要在素被稱為文化沙漠的南台灣種出表演藝術的花朵,要站在台灣的南端向國際發聲。


從籌劃、興建再到開館,經過15年漫長的等待,今(2018)年10月15日,衛武營國際藝術文化中心(簡稱「衛武營」)開幕了。

開幕音樂會上,衛武營藝術總監簡文彬指揮的手勢就定位,片刻的寧靜像把籌備期的紛紛擾擾歸零,第一個音符揚起,正式開始。

向國際發聲

「其實對我們來講,這真的是所謂歷史上的一天。……這之前所有的準備,大家的通力合作,最重要的都是在向國際發聲。」簡文彬說。

1967年出生的簡文彬,22歲出國深造,30歲那年他受聘為德國萊茵歌劇院駐院指揮,44歲獲聘為終身駐院指揮,是極少數在世界古典音樂世界裡,指揮歐洲頂級樂手的台灣人。47歲那年他辭去德國萊茵歌劇院駐院指揮終身職,落腳在曾被稱為文化沙漠的高雄,成為衛武營國際藝術文化中心總監,「我之所以決定要回來,其實就是這個動力(在台灣向國際發聲),過去二十多年在國外看到台灣的處境,讓你希望可以回來為台灣做一點事情。」

衛武營開幕的新聞在歐洲擴散,迄今已有七十多篇外媒報導,英國《衛報》更以「史詩級鉅獻」為題,稱讚衛武營是地表最強藝術表演館。

不只是開幕時的曝光,衛武營的國際共製節目《驚園》與《杜蘭朵》,早在2015年即進行世界首演,《驚園》的靈感來自明代湯顯祖膾炙人口的崑曲名作《牡丹亭》,是由衛武營、美國林肯中心、美國斯波萊多藝術節(Spoleto Festival USA),與新加坡藝術節跨國委託、共同製作的獨幕歌劇,簡文彬在其中擔任指揮。台德共製的《杜蘭朵》則是簡文彬口中所說「不小心的成功案例」,這齣歌劇的幕後製作團隊,從導演黎煥雄、服裝設計賴宣吾、舞台設計梁若珊到影像設計王俊傑,皆不折不扣地來自台灣。這樣的機會不知道何時才會再發生,但「真的希望在歐洲傳統的歌劇、舞台劇的產業裡,我們有發揮的地方。」簡文彬說。

創作南台灣的表演藝術生態

大學畢業後出國深造,旅歐近30年,簡文彬迄今待在國外的時間比在台灣還久,之前常聽外界形容高雄是文化沙漠,這些名詞對他來說是個「傳說」,他還未親身經歷。但身為一位場館的經營者,簡文彬說:「我們必須要接受市場的樣態,然後『看看我們可以做什麼』。」

笑稱自己不會認枕頭,適應力很強的簡文彬,開始在衛武營揮動他的指揮棒。「我們為什麼不能發展屬於高雄的表演藝術風格呢?」他自己提問。

面對市場的開發,簡文彬認為先讓大家走進來,直接去感受,是現階段重要的事。他把在高雄藝文市場的耕耘也稱為「創作」,不管是文化沙漠也好,藝文邊陲也罷,他認為高雄就是高雄,高雄不是台北,也不需要是台北,發展專屬南台灣的藝文風格才是該當的。

而談到場館營運,「創造出一種欣賞藝文的生活型態,看到大家絡繹不絕到衛武營來,充分地利用衛武營的空間,這對我來說才是重要的。」為此,在籌備開館的過程中,簡文彬與夥伴們溝通,所有在表演館場中習以為常的規矩都被提出來討論,包括如何引導觀眾、接待、服裝、用語等等細節。藝術欣賞這件事應該不是一個四四方方、要立正站好的事情,不希望以台北怎麼做,所以高雄便如何來結案,他開玩笑著以高雄人騎車習慣「直接左轉」為例,面對高雄的觀眾自然不需要特意的咬文嚼字,服務的對象不同,服務的方式自然也需要調整,舉凡這些細節都需要再一次被提出,然後決定一種跟此地真正契合的方式。「對我來說,並不是在拚績效,它是一個大的創作,創作一個以高雄為中心的南台灣表演藝術生態。」簡文彬強調。

眾人的藝術中心

2015年,簡文彬喊出「眾人的藝術中心」的口號來定位衛武營。

這與打造衛武營建築的荷蘭建築師法蘭馨‧侯班(Francine Houben)的設計理念相呼應,她從在地的榕樹群得到靈感,設計的單一平面大波浪屋頂形同榕樹群樹冠相連的樣態,根鬚盤錯形成的樹洞,成了屋頂下的通路與休憩空間;透過天井射下的光線,形似陽光透過樹梢撒下的氛圍;因為風洞效應,樹冠下的廣場不時涼風習習;場館的平面坡道與衛武營都會公園的步道相連,自然而然地邀請民眾進入到榕樹廣場,共享這半戶外空間的舒適愜意。

流線曲面的屋頂下,室內空間則涵括了兩廳兩院──音樂廳、表演廳、歌劇院、戲劇院。

全台灣唯一採葡萄園式設計的音樂廳,讓聽眾形同圍觀著演出者,柏林愛樂音樂廳、洛杉磯的迪士尼音樂廳、東京三得利音樂廳、巴黎愛樂音樂廳等都採類似設計。廳內設置擁有9,085支發音管的管風琴,是亞洲最大規格的管風琴。

表演廳作為室內樂及獨奏會的演出場地,環繞空間的反音板、吸音簾、菱格牆面等設計,只為營造最佳的聲學效果。

要等到12月雲門舞集45周年「林懷民舞作精選」才正式曝光的歌劇院,是全台最大的劇場,廳內以台灣紅為主色,馬蹄形的席次安排,最多可容納2,260席。

戲劇院以台夫特藍為主色,舞台可視需求調整為單面鏡框式舞台及突出式的三面舞台,後者拉近觀眾與演出者的距離,觀眾能近距離感受表演者的喜怒哀樂,深刻體會戲劇張力。

國際級的規格,南台灣同樣也值得享受世界級的表演場地;但另一方面,簡文彬並不希望藝術就此被高高拱起,「我希望這邊會變成大家會喜歡來的『地方』,而不是一個『殿堂』。」因此,他們在榕樹廣場舉辦「衛武營樹洞」計畫,邀請民眾一起來做瑜珈、盪鞦韆;也曾舉辦「樹洞窺電影」,讓民眾悠哉地躺在榕樹廣場下,欣賞投放在鋼板曲面牆上的電影。而且衛武營沒有大門,是對所有人開放的平面空間,民眾可從四面八方接近,歡迎用各種方式親近衛武營。

每年舉辦的「衛武營藝術季」,國際論壇第一場一定是公民論壇,邀請各行各業來討論思考衛武營與自身的關係,試圖勾勒衛武營發展的服務,如何與外界連結?

踱步在場館中的時光迴廊,細讀衛武營的歷史,才知曉這廣域的空間從清領至日治時期就是軍事要地,戰後轉為新訓中心,1979年軍方釋出,1992年由曾貴海醫師等民間力量推動衛武營公園化,開始十餘年的南方綠色革命運動。2003年政府通過「衛武營藝術文化中心」計畫,在都會公園內保留10公頃為作藝術中心用地,至2018年「衛武營國家藝術文化中心」落成。這歷程一如總統蔡英文在啟用典禮致詞所言,代表台灣在空間解嚴與文化平權的努力。

Let’s party

衛武營開幕季足足兩個半月,節目是匯集過去三年多衛武營營運推動小組的成果報告。

從2015年開始,衛武營利用下半年舉辦「童樂節」、「藝術祭」,與高雄市政府在上半年舉辦的春天藝術節接力,高雄的藝文人口慢慢地被滋養出來了。

特別值得一提的是2016年推動的「衛武營馬戲平台」與「台灣舞蹈平台」。一年一度的馬戲平台是馬戲工作者的交流平台,同時也向社會大眾介紹以人為主「新馬戲」,讓民眾有機會親近這項平民藝術。台灣舞蹈平台也與歐陸年輕編舞家網絡平台Aerowaves締結合作關係,成為亞洲首個與其建立正式夥伴關係的組織。衛武營也成為今年年中由亞洲各國舞蹈專業人士所發起的「AND +」創始夥伴,集結亞洲舞蹈新能量,平台的創設就是要連結國際,讓台灣被國際看見。

啟用典禮「揭幕──璀璨閃耀」開幕音樂會上的曲目,特別挑選出身高雄鳳山、國內大師級作曲家蕭泰然的《來自福爾摩沙的天使》,以及同樣出身高雄的作曲家黃思瑜的《客家薪傳》和台灣青年作曲家王乙聿的《簧》,濃濃的在地味,同時向高雄這個偉大的港口城市致意。

夜間在戶外劇場舉行的《眾人的派對》,則是由德國藝術創意團隊phase7,與國內外百名表演藝術團隊如蒂摩爾古薪舞集X地磨兒部落、丞舞製作、Corby Welch、莊金梅、吉姆 Jimix、十鼓擊樂團等共同演出,展現表演藝術的多元面貌。

若用一種音樂類型來形容衛武營,簡文彬毫不猶疑地說:「當然就是交響樂囉!」各種樂器在樂章中都有自己的位置,一如衛武營的舞台是為各式各樣的人而存在,每個人都可以在這裡找到他的位置。

「衛武營這麼大,真的要靠大家一起去撐起來,而作為眾人的藝術中心,另一層意義就是大家要一起成長。」簡文彬堅定地說。

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