Suitcase and World: Encore Dunhuang.

Friday, September 23, 2016

Encore Dunhuang.

I only have one simple word to describe what I saw tonight - Wow!!!!

When Cathy asked if we wanted to see a performance event, tied to the International Cultural Expo that Dunhuang was hosting, we all said yes though we really didn't have any idea what we were all in for. 

The surprises with the venue itself.  Our driver deposited us in the parking lot.  The skies were  hazy and the air was filled with a strong odor of something burning like there was a forest fire nearby except that would not be possible given we're in the desert.

Before us was an ultra contemporary gleaming turquoise colored glass building, seemingly rising up from the sand.  This is the Aqua Blue Theater, designed by Chinese architect Zhu Xiaodi. It is like nothing I had ever seen before and very unexpected given where we are.  Who knew that Dunhuang was so modern?  I was expecting a sleepy desert outpost and I'm quickly finding out that it's anything but that!

We had time to walk around a bit and even with that, I could not figure where the entrance to this place was.  There were no windows and no obvious doors.

Located across the street was another stunning piece of architecture.  I had no idea what it was but if I had to venture a guess, I would say it was a planetarium just based on the globe like structure in the middle.  Cathy said we would be going there tomorrow so we'll know then what it is!

The show was scheduled to start at 8p and a few minutes before the start time, we saw people walking down a ramp so we followed them.  We were entering the building.  To this moment, I still can't tell you where the front entrance of this most unique building is!

At the door, we showed our tickets and there was a quick security check of our belongings before we were allowed inside.  We were ushered into a very large room with no seats.  The place was standing room only and it was  packed with people.

We were minutes away from seeing a performance of an immersive Chinese theater piece called, “Encore Dunhuang” with indeed debuted Silk Road Dunhuang International Cultural Expo. The is directed by one of China’s most famous directors, Wang Chaoge, who was the co-director of the opening ceremony at the 2008 Olympic Games in Beijing.

The 90 minute performance gives audience members a chance to travel through time, as they walk through four rooms and experience key moments and characters in the 2,000-year history of the city of Dunhuang.

The first room had vendors narrating in Mandarin.  There was no translation so we had no clue what we were seeing though in the beginning, Cathy tried to do simultaneous translation for us but that proved to not be sustainable, especially when the singing started.

Photography was allowed but sadly, I am height challenged even for a Chinese person so I had a hard time seeing anything let alone take photos and in some cases, it was too dark to be able to take photos with my slow zoom lens :-(

As they narrated, performers made their way into the room....on what looked like a fashion stage, that intersected the room.  It was a st ream of characters, each dressed in a different costume, some very elaborate and others, starkly simple.

For one scene, real sand rained down!

Once the performance was over in the first room, we were allowed ushered into the next large room.  Again,it was standing room only.  In front of us was a large wall and projected on it were what looked like shipping crates.  As the music played, we realized the wall was not solid.  There were fabric bands that performers popped their heads and bodies through.  In fact, the entire show was staged with assistance from a UK based company called d3 Technologies who was responsible delivering all the large projections used throughout the show.

The scene with the half naked men and the woman, suspended above them via a security cable, was suppose to represent the veneration of apsaras who are female spirits in both Hindu and Buddhist mythology.

Not every part of a performance took place on a stage.  Sometimes, something was happening right next to us.

For the third *act* of the show, the audience was divided up into groups and taken into different rooms.  There were probably about 20-30 of us in the one room.  In the center of the floor was a glass panel so you could look down at the performers below.

On the top of the walls around us were several glass paneled rooms where more actors and actresses were putting on a show.

And there was even a scene being played out above our heads!

The last room was the actual auditorium.  Everyone just took a seat.  The curtains opened to reveal what I think is the larger indoor stage I have ever seen in my entire life!

Various scenes played out on the stage. With one scene, you realized that the entire stage floor, which is massive, could be lowered and raised with new props.  Incredible!

I enjoyed watching the men with the banners attached to their backs.  Really nicely choreographed.

Once again, the use of tech was particularly evident in one scene where it looked like the performers were simply floating in the night sky when you knew they were standing on solid ground.  It was amazing to watch unfold.

My favorite stage scene was the one with the lanterns.  They all start out lit but in a short few seconds, the lights alternate on and off.  It was a magical effect!

When the 90 minute performance was over, the narrators who had started the show, pointed the way out.

I had no expectations going into the show and coming out, I was beyond amazed at the quality of the performance - the costumes were gorgeous and the stage production was incredibly well done.  Of course, I can only judge on the visual aspect as I couldn't understand what was being said or sung. Kudos to the director for using technology to create a once in a lifetime show for the audience.  I didn't even mind having to stand for the first part of it.

I found this video on YouTube which gives nicer snippets of the performance as well as an interview with the director who just happens to be a woman!

On the way to our van, I took a photo of the theater.  This is when I wish I had a tripod so I could snap a photo that's not blurry but in any case, you can see how beautiful the building is....even in the dark of night.

Tomorrow will be a more relaxed day but I still need a good night's rest so time for bed.

Goodnight from Dunhuang!