The now smart looking La Plantation at Shunyi’s door steps used to be an old government factory. Now this petit private theatre hosts many concerts and performances on weekends. Back in the cold February 2007, it was still an empty space of 100m long, 11m wide and 17 m high. The Paris born Philippe Bouvet and his Chinese partners Zhang Xing (architect) and Shu Kun (interior designer) nearly felt in love with this huge empty place. They enjoyed the absolute freedom to design whatever they wanted.
However, that is not to say they didn’t encounter any challenges. “First, it was the Chinese language, writing difficulties, working habits and relationships between different parties in the working world”. Bouvet recalled. He has been the Art Director of La Plantation since its inception. “To me, it was even more difficult because most of the activities I am managing here were new to me! I had to learn all about a new activity in a foreign country without any background. As I see it now, it was more about a new life direction than only a new job position.”
Before that, Bouvet had already established himself as a passionate, professional musician. As a child, he dreamed of being an archeologist but gradually developed into the role of a musician, playing guitar and singing. He built three recording studios and worked on more than one hundred music productions as sound engineer, producer and art director. He particularly liked to work on polyphonic vocal music and classical music. Having lived in China since 1993, Bouvet traveled a lot and now speaks fluent Chinese. He likes underground creation energy, contemporary dance, and most of the common life of Beijing such as street life, food, and traditions.
“We dreamed of an art project for La Plantation more than for a business one.” Bouvet explained. Upon visiting the theatre recently for a solo concert by the Belgian pianist Florian Noack, I saw that Bouvet’s dream as reality. It was a great concert by a devoted player who has won various international awards including the 2015 ECHO Klassik prize (a major award in Germany）for his latest CD. When I visited, one performer and about 30 audience members sat in attendance in the 150- seat theatre. However, at the end of the concert, hundreds of red rose petals fell from the air to surround the pianist amidst passionate applause, just like in other bigger concert halls. Nothing was lacking and, perhaps, even exhibited more in terms of French taste.
(Pianist Florian Noack and some of the audiences)
As one of Beijing’s few private theatres, La Plantation took one and a half years to be complete, finally making its debut in March 2009. Almost immediately, the venue won several awards, e.g. the 2009 Golden Prize of Interior Lighting Design Contest by China’s “Interior Design” magazine and the 2010 Award of Best Public Space Design by another magazine TrendsHome”. The theatre’s most distinct feature is its natural acoustic system with a second natural reverb developed by Ruben Rodriguez and Masque audio systems.
When they first decided to start building La Plantation in 2007, Bouvet thought it was a too late due to China’s fast growing economy. However, that perspective changed in 2015. “In Europe people have had a habit for centuries of going to theatre and concerts. However, it is still in the early days in China. It is a nice surprise to realize that we are still in advance, but this also means an economical challenge to get 150 people every weekend in a 23 million people city!”
Nonetheless, this doesn’t mean that La Plantation lacks good musicians. Hundreds of world renowned players once gave performances here. Some famous names include cello player Adrien Frasse-Sombet, awarded classical and jazz musicians like David Violi, Paul Lay, Vincent Peirani, and China’s national orchestra pianist Wu Muye.
Paul Arnaud Pejouan, Director of the largest piano festivals in Europe “Piano aux Jacobins” and “L’esprit du Piano”, told Bouvet after he first heard a piano performance at La Plantation, “Philippe, you have the best chamber music concert hall in Beijing”. Comments like these from performers from a wide range of experiences gave Bouvet great confidence and reward to see many great musicians would like to come and play at La Plantation each time they pass by Beijing.
Talking about the future, Bouvet is passionate about making La Plantation a popular community hub of culture and performance art, especially for the Shunyi area. “Keep going with quality is the only way to bring more and more people. A project is a matter for people and opportunities.”
(Address and contact information of La Plantation)