The China National Traditional Orchestra, established in 1960, continues to showcase China's musical heritage, but with a modern touch.
The show Looking for Du Fu has a unique stage presentation－musicians perform in "boxes". [Photo provided to China Daily]
In its latest collaborative production with the Chengdu Traditional Orchestra from Sichuan province, titled Looking for Du Fu, the China National Traditional Orchestra pushes boundaries by inviting Chinese director Yi Liming to create an imaginative Chinese musical experience based in ancient times.
The show will premiere in Beijing on Saturday and will be staged in Chengdu a month later.
Based on Chinese poet Du Fu (AD 712-770), one of the most celebrated Chinese poets of the Tang Dynasty (AD 618-907), the production, which the director calls a "musical verse drama", combines traditional Chinese music with contemporary theater.
Using original compositions by musician Liang Zhongqi and playwright Wang Yuanfei, the show depicts the poet's life story in three parts－pastoral life, warfare and dreams.
The poet came to Chengdu as a war refugee in AD 759.
The next year, he built a thatched cottage and spent most of his time there before leaving Sichuan in AD 765 after penning 240 of his approximately 1,400 poems.
Yi says there were five works on the poet Du staged in the first half of this year, including opera, drama to ballet.
So, the idea of telling the poet's story using traditional Chinese instruments was both exciting and a challenge.
"Usually when the audience comes to a show by the China National Traditional Orchestra, they enjoy the music with the band members sitting on the stage playing the instruments. However, this time, we have the musicians not just playing onstage but also 'in the air'," says the director, referring to the 10-meter high and 10-meter wide installation, which is divided into 28 boxes.
"Some of the musicians, including the 100-strong orchestra and 80-strong chorus, perform in the 'boxes' and each of the 'boxes' functions as a sound box, delivering the sounds of the instruments to the audience."
Besides, 12 cameras and eight digital projectors will offer the audience a visual experience while listening to the sounds of the traditional Chinese instruments.
"It's hard to use a big Chinese music orchestra to depict an ancient cultural celebrity. Music is abstract, but we want to portray the poet in a concrete way," says Yi.
"So we chose some of Du's most famous poems and combined a poetry recital with the orchestra."
"Du has been portrayed in paintings, sculptures and many other art forms. But the real Du can be found only in his poems. I hope that audience members will be able to picture the poet in their imaginations. That's why we call the production Looking for Du Fu. The answer belongs to the audience."
Yi, a prolific director, who has been with the Beijing People's Art Theater since graduating from the Central Academy of Drama after majoring in set and lighting design in the late 1980s, is known for his Chinese and international productions.
He presented the opera version of On the Land of White Deer, an adaptation from contemporary Chinese literature, at Beijing's Tianqiao Performing Arts Center in June.
Meanwhile, according to Xi Qiang, president of the China National Traditional Orchestra, thanks to Yi, the Du Fu performance is a breakthrough for the orchestra, whose mission is to promote China's traditional music while being creative and contemporary.
If you go
7:30 pm, Aug 20 and 21. National Center for the Performing Arts. No 2 West Chang'an Avenue, Xicheng district, Beijing. 010-6655-0000.