atelier FCJZ sculpts set and costumes for seven sages of the bamboo grove
images courtesy of atelier FCJZ




the story of the ‘seven sages of the bamboo grove’ follows the tensions, turmoils and teachings of a collective of chinese literati during the troubled, political times of the 3rd century AD. after the eventual overthrow of imperial chancellor cao by the si-ma family, some of the scholars continued to serve the new power, while others withdrew into seclusion. following years of political upheaval and corrupt court politics, ji kang, one of the most prominent of the seven sages, was executed by the state.


because of their symbolic influence on chinese poetry, music, art, and culture, the sages have inspired generations of creatives and intellectuals through painting and performance. for a dramatic depiction of the story presented at beijing’s china millennium monument theater, atelier FCJZ marks their first involvement in performance art with the design of the scenography and costumes for the play.

scaffolds can be perceived as both a bamboo grove and columns in a palace




a highly abstracted space-time experience is presented within a four-sided view of the theatrical venue, where a gridded configuration of scaffolds can be perceived as both a bamboo grove and columns in a palace, depending on the scene. onstage, cut-out geometries representing mountains, clouds, and the moon suggest the outdoor environment of the grove, whereas roofs and screens allude to interior architecture spaces. the entire set of individual props mounted on the scaffolds could be lowered and raised according to the plot development. overhead, a large spinning turbine serves as a symbol for the internal struggles of the characters.

the usurper dressed in red




in the design of the costumes, characters were grouped into three categories, each represented by a distinct color: the weakening cao family was dressed in black, si-ma, the usurper, in red, and the seven sages in white. robe-like cloaks worn by the sages were derived from identical, hollow fabric tubes, each containing seven openings — an adaptable and flexible design that allowed for multiple configurations throughout the show.


complex characters wore a double layer of costumes as a symbol for their compound and labyrinthine psychological states. for example, the cloak of zhong hui, who betrayed imperial chancellor cao for si-ma, featured a black outer layer and a red inner layer; princess cao wen, who married ji kang, wore a white dress over a black gown. matching the abstract and sculptural scenography, all of the costumes were made of scuba fabric, giving them a modern, sinuous finish.

the characters were categorized into three groups, each marked by a distinct color

complex characters (left) were given double layers of costumes to symbolize multiple qualities

all costumes were made of scuba fabric to give a modern, sinuous finish

the weakening members of the cao family are dressed in black

the seven sages are costumed in white cloaks

the seven sages wore identical hollow tubes with seven openings

the props could be lowered and raised according to the plot development

a large spinning turbine visualizes the internal struggles of the characters

a scale model shows the layout of the stage and the configuration of construction materials

a model of the gridded system of scaffolding

sketches of the props used onstage

drawing of the identical hollow tubes that clothed the seven sages