Kung fu show packs a punch
Updated: 2013-12-08 07:06
By Chen Nan (China Daily)
When Erick Villeneuve was invited by the China Arts and Entertainment Group to direct a multimedia show about Chinese kung fu, the experienced Canadian director behind projects including the APEC Summit's Cultural Gala in Vancouver felt excited yet challenged.
"I have never learned kung fu and the ancient culture has been presented to world audiences in various forms, especially kung fu movies. How can I break all the conventions and make the audiences connect with the show?" he says.
"I am also thrilled about the project because I am always interested in modernizing classical things."
Immortal Chi is a show produced by an international team and caters to the global market. Zou Hong / China Daily
He started his research by visiting kung fu masters and teachers in China, observing their practices and learning the martial art form's philosophy.
He was also interested in tai chi, an ancient Chinese martial art that focuses on the use of qi - an inner energy or life force.
"The kung fu masters spend their whole lives to pursue the balance of qi and energy, which is something untouchable but essential in Chinese kung fu culture," Villeneuve says.
The idea finally became the story of the multimedia show, Immortal Chi - The Ultimate Quest for Balance, which will run in Beijing from Dec 13-15.
The show revolves around the story of master Ma Qi, who practices kung fu for 15 years but loses his balance. To regain his balance, he reviews his past decade of kung fu practice and meets himself at different periods of development in his dreams, which enables him to meditate and achieve a higher level.
Villeneuve contrasts the fast movements of Chinese kung fu and the slow movements of tai chi in the show against striking lighting, stage settings and music.
He also sets the story in modern times rather than in ancient China because he wants the show to connect with audiences.
"I want to build a connection between the audience and the show, so various ways to make the audience emotional and touched will be used," the director says, comparing the fierce percussion accompaniment to a drop of water in a bowl.
Zhu Ziyi, vice-president of the China Arts and Entertainment Group, says Immortal Chi is a show for the international market.
"We want a Chinese story to be told by a foreign production team, which will be better understood by international audiences," Zhu says.
"China has many good cultural stories, such as the show we did before, Shaolin Warrior, which received good feedback. However, many good stories cannot be well accepted by foreign audiences because the stories aren't told in the right way."
He cited the Kung Fu Panda movie franchise. "Kung fu and the panda are both from China but we didn't tell a good story to make the international market accept it."
But Westerners took those elements and presented them in a way that became an international hit.
After the Beijing shows, Immortal Chi - The Ultimate Quest for Balance will tour China. It will stage more than 50 shows around Europe next April.
In 2005, Villeneuve directed the show Era: Intersection of Time, which has been performed in Shanghai for eight years and grossed more than 400 million yuan ($66 million). Villeneuve and his team present acrobatics using cutting-edge multimedia theater technologies to create stunning visual effects.
"I know that Riverdance is very popular in China," the director says.
"The Irish tap dancing culture is very well presented to foreign audiences. We want to create the same effect with our show because the cultural elements, such as acrobatics and kung fu, are exclusive to China."
(China Daily 12/08/2013 page9)