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Cultural Infrastructure Series XXV: Taiyuan Asian Puppet Theatre Museum

  • Date:2020-02-07
Cultural Infrastructure Series XXV Taiyuan Asian Puppet Theatre Museum

Robin Ruizendaal, Dutch revitalizer of Asian puppet theater

Dr. Robin Ruizendaal (羅斌), who is originally from the Netherlands, is the director of the Taipei-based Taiyuan Asian Puppet Theatre Museum (台原亞洲偶戲博物館) and artistic director of the Taiyuan Puppet Theatre Company (台原亞洲偶戲團). Ruizendaal is considered one of the foremost authorities on Asian puppet theater and has been promoting the Taiwanese varieties for over two decades.

Ruizendaal first began learning Mandarin at the age of 19 and in 1986, he enrolled in a doctoral degree program in Chinese Studies at Leiden University in the Netherlands. As part of the program, he went to China for research on his doctoral dissertation, which focused on traditional marionette theater over a 60-year-period in southern China, mostly Fujian Province, with some field work in nearby Taiwan.

He was touched by the beauty and elegance of the performances, the music itself, and the religious significance of Asian puppet theater. After completing his degree and fieldwork in China, Ruizendaal returned to Taiwan, determined to follow his passion and build a career and life in the city he fell in love with.

He first worked at Taipei-based Suho Memorial Paper Museum (樹火紀念紙博物館), then was invited by Dr. Paul Lin (林經甫), founder of Taiyuan Arts and Culture Foundation and fellow avid traditional puppet collector, to establish a center to develop puppet theater exhibitions and performances. Ruizendaal took the job offer and never looked back, making Taiwan his home for the past 27 years.

In 2005, the center moved into a historical building on Xining North Street, between Dihua Street and Dadaocheng Wharf, to house a museum and the 100-seat multi-purpose Nadou Theatre (納豆劇場) for performing traditional and contemporary puppet theater.

Ruizendaal explained that his main goal was the preservation and popularization of puppetry by making new plays based on traditional ones, thus attracting a newer and wider range of audiences for live puppet theater and promoting this art form overseas.

He has conducted hundreds of exhibitions to promote Taiwanese and Asian puppetry at home and abroad, developing interactive and DIY activities to incorporate multiple layers of knowledge from the basics to the obscure.

As artistic director of Taiyuan Puppet Theatre Company, he writes and directs many shows, performing over 50 different productions in over 51 countries on all five continents, from the Royal Festival Hall and V&A in London to the Traditional Opera House in Hanoi, Casa Mila in Barcelona, the National Gallery in Cape Town, Tianqiao Theatre in Beijing, and the Cambodian countryside, among many other venues.

In each of the company’s works, Ruizendaal strives to retain the unique features of Taiwanese puppetry while still incorporating modern elements, allowing for a variety of subject matter and a diversity of music and languages.

With extensive research and fieldwork, Ruizendaal has published several scholarly books on Asian puppet theater and has also been instrumental in bringing scholars of puppet theater to Taiwan, as well as introducing European and American puppet troupes to Taiwan to promote cross-cultural exchanges.

Ruizendaal says that he is truly grateful to Taiwan for providing him with such opportunities and he is very pleased with the revitalization efforts that have taken place and proud to have been a part of them.

Ruizendaal was awarded the 24th Taiwan-France Cultural Award in 2020 for his outstanding contributions in researching and promoting Taiwan's puppetry culture.

The Taiyuan Asian Puppet Theatre Museum is currently closed and will reopen in 2021 at a new location on Dihua Street in Taipei’s historic Dadaocheng area.