Lee Wushu Arts Theatre – Locally Crafted, Internationally Acclaimed
Founded in 1998 with the mission to develop wushu as an art, Lee Wushu Arts Theatre has since gone from strength to strength, even bringing its fusion of dance and martial arts to the international stage. Their critically-acclaimed Farewell, My Concubine – The Movement of the Martyr received invitations to perform across the globe.Founder, artistic director, and wushu director of both Lee Wushu Arts Theatre and Lee Wushu Arts Workshop, Mr. Lee Swee Seng is an award-winning wushu practitioner; having trained and competed both locally and internationally. The company, under Mr. Lee’s vision, brings the traditional Chinese martial art form of wushu to new audiences by creating a new aesthetic which fuses it with dance techniques, theatre, and multimedia design through each new staging. Having staged theatrical productions – many of them award-winning – since 2001, the company has consistently broken new ground bringing the art form to the masses.
“Wushu is seen as rigid and not having much soul; while dance brings out an individual’s characteristics. It is not a balance [of wushu and dance] but fusion, which combines the grace of dance movements with the strength and vigor of martial arts,” explains Mr. Lee, on the merging of martial arts and dance.
Making their own breaks
For now, being based in Johor means that opportunities for Lee Wushu are few and far between. The troupe, consequently, frequently travels to Kuala Lumpur to perform, with many of their productions premiering in the nation’s capital. Such productions have included: Wushu Madness – 1 Table 2 Chairs which premiered at the Kuala Lumpur Performing Arts Centre in 2012; and Farewell, My Concubine which opened at the (now-defunct) The Actors Studio Lot 10 in August 2011.
Mr. Lee considers Wushu Madness – 1 Table 2 Chairs to be their most “challenging yet groundbreaking” work thus far with a stage set featuring 400 tables of different sizes, and utilised various martial arts equipment and multimedia projection. The production went on to win the ‘Kakiseni Audience Choice Awards for Dance’, ‘Best Set Design’ and ‘Best Lighting Design’ at The 10th Annual BOH Cameronian Arts Awards.
The world takes note
Farewell, My Concubine however, could arguably be considered their most successful work. The production, a love story based on the circumstances of the historical Chinese Battle of Gaixia in 202 BC, went on to win ‘The Best Creative Award in 22nd National Chinese Dance Festival 2010’, as well as ‘The Kakiseni Audience Choice Awards for Dance’ and ‘Best Costume Design, Styling & Make Up’ at The 9th Annual BOH Cameronian Arts Awards.
Soon after, international attention began rolling in, including invitations to perform at Hong Kong’s ‘Small Theatre Big Drama Asia Forum’, South Korea’s ‘Chuncheon International Theatre Festival & Masan International Theatre Festival,’ Indonesia’s ‘30th FACP Annual Conference,’ the UK’s ‘International Youth Arts Festival’ organised by the 2012 London Olympics, among others.
Facing financial barriers
However, their main income coming from the teaching of Wushu in schools, which was not enough for the company to take up many of these offers. Fortunately, last year they received what they so dearly needed – funding to take up an offer from Taiwan’s ‘Chiayi International Dance Festival.’ Mr. Lee explains, that with the “international touring funds received from JKKN & MyPAA in year 2013 and 2015 after the implement of the Royal Arts Gala Fund,” they were able to “reduce the cost burden of the overseas tour and it contributed towards our tour coordination expenses.” This financial aid also allowed the company to upgrade the props, set, and multimedia projection for the staging in Taiwan.
Lee Wushu also participated in the International Dance Conference which was part of the festival. “The organiser invited our troupe to speak on the topic ‘The Dialogue between Wushu and Dance’, where we shared ideas regarding the invention of the Malaysian-made performing arts-martial dance,” Mr. Lee explains, “this production was reported about in every corner of Chiayi and received an overwhelming response; including compliments from the Mayor of Chiayi City.”
Currently Lee Wushu is focusing on broadening its role by including more community education projects which emphasise healthy lifestyles; producing an artist-in-residence programme; creating more local theatre performance; as well as scheduling overseas tours in Europe and an ASEAN tour for cultural exchange. An affinity for touring, which no doubt, was encouraged by their experience in Taiwan, which Mr. Lee recalls as, “one of the best festivals we ever had.”