Theater of dreams
Updated: 2012-04-06 08:42
By Liu Lu (China Daily)
The Legend of Kungfu, the best-selling show of China Heaven Creation. Photo Provided to China Daily
Chinese-owned performance center in US boostS nation's cultural advances
Of the 50-odd theaters in Branson City - the third largest performing arts center after Broadway and Las Vegas in the United States - the White House Theatre is undoubtedly one of the most popular.
Unlike other shows in the Missouri city, the vast majority of shows staged at this particular theater are the exotic, Oriental kind that captivate the audience and bring with it fresh thrills to the city's artistic productions.
The White House Theatre became the first fully-owned Chinese theater in the US after its current owner, the Beijing-based China Heaven Creation International Performing Arts Company, acquired the facilities for about $6.5 million (4.92 million euros) in 2009.
Thanks to this bold move, as other Chinese performing arts groups are still seeking ways to enter the international performing arts market, China Heaven Creation has already successfully brought its classics to the mainstream US audience in less than two years, thereby giving it an unparalleled edge.
To further enhance its brand awareness in the international art scene, China Heaven Creation's Executive Director Cao Xiaoning says the company is committed to developing world-famous performing arts products. These Chinese cultural productions will prove to be the ideal medium for facilitating global cross-cultural exchanges, he says.
"Chinese cultural and art enterprises should take a bigger role in exploring new ways to showcase Chinese cultural products in overseas markets."
Cao says even in the 1990s, every year, particularly during festive seasons, there were many outstanding Chinese performing groups touring overseas. But most of them offered free admissions and their audiences were largely restricted to overseas Chinese, thereby having little influence in the local mainstream society. Most of these commercial performances were arranged by foreign agents, and hence did not offer much prospects for Chinese art groups to make inroads in the overseas markets.
"It is vital to break the bottlenecks that are restricting China's performance products from going overseas," Cao says.
But having good products alone is not enough to gain a toehold, he says, adding that without powerful overseas marketing channels and platforms, it is very difficult to build up world-renowned performance products.
"Short-term tours cannot help Chinese performance arts products establish an enduring reputation with the overseas audience, as the market is still dominated by Western performers," Cao says.
It is to get over these problems that China Heaven Creation decided to acquire the White House Theatre three years ago, thereby allowing its best products to go directly into the US market, Cao says. It also demonstrates the determination of Chinese artists to explore the mainstream Western performing arts market.
In addition to setting up performance venues, the company has also actively engaged in overseas marketing campaigns, as Cao believes the best way to make China's performing arts products approach the mainstream Western audience is to make better use of commercial channels and to manage shows in what is essentially a market-oriented operation.
"Ticket sales will reflect whether a popular show in China is still adored in other countries. Let the market determine if it should survive or not," Cao says.
By far the best-selling show of China Heaven Creation is a theatrical makeover of Chinese ancient martial art spectacle called The Legend of Kungfu, which is also China's top-grossing show of all time in overseas markets.
In 2011 alone, the show notched up sales revenue of more than 60 million yuan ($9.5 million, 7.1 million euros), and the figure is expected to double this year, Cao predicts.
The show's choreography is a thrilling blend of fantastic feats of kung fu artistry, emotion-filled ballet and modern dance, high-flying acrobatics and enchanting original music, which tells the story of a young man who embarks on an epic journey to enlightenment after undergoing a series of formidable trials and overcoming obstacles.
The show is now the longest-running production from China and has been seen by more than 3 million people to date, with the majority of its audience from the US and Europe, Cao says.
The kung fu practitioners have performed the show around the world.
By far this grand production involving some 60 performers has toured North America, Europe and some Asian countries, surpassing 5,000 performances.
According to Cao, the show has been adapted into seven different versions in four languages, so as to meet the demand of different audience groups.
Before hitting Broadway and embarking on a European tour, in 2009, Chinese artists ran 27 performances of the show at the London Coliseum, triggering a strong kung fu whirlwind among local residents.
"The Legend of Kungfu marks the first time that a Chinese show was able to enter London's high-end performing market by relying completely on commercial operations," Cao says proudly, adding that they have received more and more invitations from theaters in Europe after their successful premiere in London.
Cao attributes the success of The Legend of Kungfu to its Broadway style, which he thought is unlike any other kung fu stunt from China and is more likely to be accepted by Western audience.
"If a Chinese performing arts show wants to enter the mainstream market in a foreign country, it must be in a way that is acceptable to local people," Cao says.
In an effort to make the show a breathtaking on-stage artistry in the eyes of Western audience, Broadway veteran director Ray Roderick has been invited to join the artistic team to redevelop the script, which not only creates a visual feast but also opens a window into the remarkable culture of China.
Apart from The Legend of Kungfu, China Heaven Creation has developed 10 classic repertoires, of which half have been introduced to the US and European markets, with all receiving good response, and more are expected to come.
"Creativity and artistic innovation are the keys to surviving the intense competition in overseas markets," Cao says.
In addition to the creation of their own classic repertoire, China Heaven Creation also plans to promote excellent plays created by other Chinese art groups to the world through their established overseas platform.
"We want to build the White House Theatre as a platform to showcase outstanding Chinese performing arts productions to more overseas audiences," Cao says.
He says along with the global economic integration, the era of global cultural integration is bound to come.
"To help people from other countries to deepen their understanding of Chinese culture and art is sure to benefit China's economic development in the long run," Cao says.