Kungfu Show Gets A Modern Makeover
By Daniel Xu
China.org.cn, September 8, 2011
The kungfu extravaganza "Shichahai" is refreshingly beautiful, showcasing a unique combination of martial arts, Chinese opera and acrobatics against a backdrop of colorful sets and CG visuals. The hour-long spectacle invokes images of the Beijing Olympics' opening ceremony, though on a much smaller scale.
The show currently resides in the theater with the same name just outside Beijing's famous Houhai bar street near the Bell Tower. The Shichahai Theater does not boast the enormity or the glamour of major Beijing opera houses built during the pre-Olympic boom, although the modest establishment does fit right in with the labyrinth of hutongs, or alleyways, that Beijing is famous for. Armies of lavishly decorated rickshaws often pass by the front of the theater gates, bringing it plenty of potential customers.
Inside, the feature show is paragon to the modernization of some of China's most treasured performance arts. Divided into five acts, it opens with stick fighting – and break-dancing - pandas. The following acts feature talented martial artists dressed in costumes of cranes, snakes, tigers and monkeys, each act distinctive with its theme, performance style and martial art discipline.
The list of animals may sound familiar, as it was the show's original design to reference the Dreamworks hit movie "Kungfu Panda." Aiming to appeal to tourists - especially those from abroad - "Shichahai" follows the story of a foreigner couple coming to Beijing to look for their beloved Kungfu Panda. Along the way, they tour Beijing's attractions, experience the city's cultures and encounter a great variety of characters; they even end up learning some kungfu moves of their own..
The stage design illustrates the great care put into the show's production. Consider a scene where as the curtains raise, the digital undersea images cast on the curtains falls instead on a semi-transparent screen, giving the illusion that the stage has become a giant water tank with the performing acrobats submerged inside.
Consider another scene where kungfu masters are performing while the screen behind them displays bright auburn leaves whooshing back and forth in torrential wind. The actors' movements seem as if synchronized with both the motion of the leaves and the rhythms of the music, and the sequence becomes a spectacular form of ballet.
"Shichahai" was originally produced by a team of China's veteran theater and movie directors including Jet Li's mentor and schoolmates. The show represented Beijing at the 2010 World Expo in Shanghai, and it has since traveled to Taiwan and then returned to Beijing while being constantly updated according to local preferences and other audience feedbacks.
Led by kungfu masters, many of whom champions of various martial art tournaments, "Shichahai" is performing nightly at 57 Di'anmen W St. in Beijing's Xicheng District and will hold showings all through the holidays.
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