Li Chi Slays the Dragon — LIVE at PIFA — storytelling

Li Chi Slays the Dragon — a Transformation Tale by Christopher Agostino, from an ancient legend of China

One of my favorite tales, Li Chi Slays the Dragon, from a performance on April 30, 2011 at the Philadelphia International Festival of the Arts street fair, presented by The Kimmel Center. It was a truly beautiful day, the first one after some rainy ones, so the street was packed and a crowd formed instantly as I started up. I painted a couple of people to demonstrate the transformation story-faces concept and to focus the crowd, and then picked a volunteer and launched right in.

The tale of the brave maiden Li Chi who volunteers to be sacrificed to the dragon in order to kill it is an especially fun one to tell. My source is a brief folktale nearly 2,000 years old, written by Gan Bao (or Kan Pao), found in the book “Chinese Fairy Tales & Fantasies” edited by Moss Roberts, 1979, Pantheon Books. Like most of the stories I perform, it has been gradually re-written through the course of presenting it to modern audiences — though the heroine Li Chi’s chiding of the previous girls sent to the dragon for not taking care of him themselves, that comes right from the original version. 2,000 year old advice: take care of business or you might get eaten.

The source image for my depiction of Li Chi, the female hero from a Peking Opera production

Hero Tales like this are the original motivational speeches, encouraging all of us to take care of business, and this is why they survive (in addition to the pure fun of telling them). I made Li Chi Slays the Dragon a centerpiece of a special show I designed this summer about why we tell stories, for a series of performances at libraries to fit the Summer Reading Club theme of “One World, Many Stories”. Kids need to hear Hero Tales, to know they can defeat a dragon if need be even though they are kids. I especially like to share tales like this one in which the hero is young, or small, or misfit, with no superpowers, fairy godmothers or magic swords (just the faithful family dog.)

Sketch for Li Chi and her faithful dog as a bodypainting design for the back of the performer portraying Li Chi in the Bodies Alive! production.

The tale and the telling of it has also been a source of inspiration for face and body painting designs exploring the Chinese Opera imagery of the female hero and of dragons, particularly as I expanded the visuals from one face to full bodypaintings on a group of performers to create the mountains and the full dragon as well as several changing images of Li Chi for the Bodies Alive! show at the Face and Body Art International Convention in 2008.

See my “Shows” page with the tab at the top of the post for more information on my Transformation — Storytelling shows

In addition to my performing at PIFA, we also had a team of facepainters there. To see the faces:


to learn about that event:

Li Chi's figure as a face design

From Bodies Alive!, with Li Chi, as a painted hand-puppet, approaching the temple on the top of the mountain

Prior to the Bodies Alive! production I worked out some of the designs and did color tests on people's faces at our events. I've always preferred doing such explorations for new designs on actual faces and bodies at our regular events, as well as sketching them out in advance.

One of the sources of inspiration for the dragon face. This image came from a book brought back from China by one of our artists, with dozens and dozens of face designs from the Chinese Opera.

The cast of the Bodies Alive! full body production, from 2008 at the Face and Body Art International Convention in Orlando.

To learn more about Transformations Storytelling Shows see:

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