Lujiazui is no longer satisfied with its role as the city's financial center; it's got ambitious plans for public art, too.
Well, not that there's a clear line between these two anyway, at least in this city. A few years ago, it might be hard to picture the idea of seeing an experimental play on this vast, empty waterfront, but that's what we did with six hundred other people on a cold rainy weekday this Tuesday. Here's a look inside the MIFA 1862 Art Center, a converted 155-year-old shipyard on the Binjiang Avenue.
Surrounded by nearly finished high-rise buildings with big "Harbour City" logos along their fences, the MIFA 1862 Art Center kicked off its first public event with a modern adaption of Chekhov's The Seagull, performed by Lithuania-based Oskaro Koršunovo Teatras (OKT).
As you may have guessed from its name, the shipyard was built in 1862. It was once the British-owned Xiangsheng Shipyard. Later taken over by the Shanghai Shipyard in 1951, it's been sitting unused and obsolete since 2005, after its owner picked up and moved to Chongming. It's now found a second life (or third or fourth or fifth) as the MIFA 1862 Art Center, managed by the Poly Theatre.
A bit of spooky history trivia: next to Xiangsheng harbor, there used to be a city graveyard with over 2,000 people buried therein, most of whom were British sailors. This might speak to the general gloominess of this whole area. Anyway, it's all covered with greenery and running tracks now. And the old shipyard has been turned into a brand new five-story theater by Japanese architect Kengo Kuma, who's also in charge of Tokyo’s National Stadium and the Hongkou SOHO in Shanghai.
Known for his usage of repeated patterns, Kuma gave MIFA 1862 Art Center an eye-catching, pixelated orange facade. The shipyard's original structure, including pillars and pipelines, are still largely preserved. Old signs and slogans are weathered but noticeable. The main hall is spacious with high ceilings. Big picture windows look out to the Huangpu river. They also appropriated original materials to good use: floor signs are made out of rusty iron plates, and the air-conditioning ducks are old steam pipes, running up above an 800-seat auditorium on both sides of the theatre.
"But nothing happens in your play! It's all one long speech!", Chekhov mocked himself in The Seagull, 'a play about a play'. He's not wrong. As actors raced through the dialogues, the performance suffered from the consistently out-of-sync subtitles -- which were bilingual and distractingly way above the stage. Knowing that I couldn't sit through the three-hour-long performance, I left during the intermission and walked resentfully into the dark freezing night. I did get to see the potential of the multimedia hardware, however, and will be back again for more shows. Their next English-language piece is Jakob Ahlbom's Lebensraum in May.
MIFA 1862 Art Center is located on No.1777 Binjiang Avenue, Pudong. For upcoming events and ticket info, visit their official website or follow their WeChat: Theater1862.