Saturday, June 14, 2008

China Day 15: Spectacular Spectacular

After our tour of the city wall we returned to the hotel for some brief down time and frantic repacking. This time I put all the souvenirs in my carry-on, which now weighs a ton, and everything else in my suitcase. I may have to buy more luggage in Guilin.

After this interlude, we boarded our beloved bus to go to the Tang Dynasty Show. Months before we left on our trip we'd prepaid for this - was that ever money well spent! We paid $80; it now costs $95 because the dollar fell, and the show was worth it at either price.

We arrived at the theater around 6:30 in the evening, and got seats practically on the stage through a lucky fluke: they had a table for 6 farther back but we had two extra people so they put us right up front. (We are at tables because this is dinner theater.) Here is our convivial group:
The orchestra was immediately behind us
but they weren't too loud; I did OK.

While we waited for the first course we admired our opulent surroundings.

During the dinner a group of eight geisha-like women played traditional Chinese instruments up on the stage:
That's a moon guitar, two erhus and a flute; the middle girl is playing something very like a hammer dulcimer. On the other side were girls playing a mouth organ (sheng)
- you can barely see the player's head behind her instrument - a pipa (the pear-shaped lute) and another guzheng like we saw on the boat.
Sorry about the bad photo; my hands obviously wobbled. Several times during dinner, a woman came out and sang;
it almost killed me when one of her numbers was - wait for it - Red River Valley in Chinese! Is it possible that they independently invented the exact same tune and it's really an ancient Chinese folksong? The players held themselves totally straight and deadpan the entire time they played - over an hour. It must be a style. Dad absolutely loved the dinner music;
I'll have to get him some CDs when we get home.

The dinner, very uncharacteristically, was plated and served Western-style instead of the family style free for all to which we have become accustomed. It was entirely delicious, and we got to keep our menu and program as souvenirs.

Then the show began. Some of it was a little more Vegas Revue than Historical Reenactment, but we had a marvelous time and loved every bit. It started with an instrumental number in which a large orchestra played traditional instruments in a tableau on the stage:
The players, like the dinner-music girls, held themselves very still except for the motions needed to play their instruments:
As you can see, the costuming was fantastic, in both senses of the word
(1: marked by extravagant fantasy or extreme individuality : eccentric;
2: excellent, superlative). These two folks:
stood stock still during the whole piece and just at the end whipped out a tiny little triangle and bell, rang one note, and took a bow.

Next we saw four dance numbers, two for women and two for men. The women's dances were very fluid and graceful while the men's emphasized leaping, drumming and athletic movements.

The first women's dance was the White Ramie Dance, which featured veils of fabric
and the waving of and posing with long flowing sleeves:
I was strongly reminded of the Ribbon event in Rhythmic Gymnastics, except of course they couldn't throw their sleeves. It was sheer delight - this was my personal favorite.

Next we saw a men's dance called "The Da Nuo", which depicted sorcerers and other masked figures. This dance was so full of leaping, drumming and athletic moves that I failed to capture a single unblurred photo!

Third we saw the "Rainbow Costume Dance", based on a Tang emperor's dream about moon women (really, he seems to have been the first science fiction novelist...) This dance featured colorful costumes
Vegas-style fans
and tableaux
which made it easy to take good pictures! Just wait till they strike a pose, and even in low light my camera does OK.

Last in the quartet was the Warrior's Dance:
At one point in this dance a dancer strode forward with enormous red cape on his shoulders. The cape took on a life of its own, billowed in a huge draft
and out popped a trio of kung-fu guys
much like the students we saw in Beijing!

We then heard some more instrumental music, including one called Spring Oriole Song, played on the Chinese panpipes by "the famous Mr. Guo".
He was able to make those pipes sound exactly like birdsong - it was amazing!
The final extravaganza was a sequence intended to represent a New Year celebration in a village. There were dragon dancers
and delicate maidens
and men playing drums by whacking them with knotted ropes
and then the Tang Emperor and Empress showed up!
They came in the back of the audience and processed down to the stage where they enthroned themselves to watch the villagers dance; a little later the Emperor joined the dance himself "to honor them".

It was a tremendous spectacle - just watching it was exhausting. I'm glad we can go to bed soon! I'm already kicking myself for not buying the DVD.

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