The romance of the Song Dynasty

On our fourth night in Hangzhou, we went to what our teachers called a “theme park”, although there wasn’t a rollercoaster in sight. Our first view of the Academy was of a massive rock formation and a few Chinese-style buildings with peaked roofs, covered in fairy lights. The place was full of Chinese tourists and therefore guides and hawkers who tried to sell us spinning wheels that light up, and like boomerangs, return to you when thrown in to the air. Although somewhat annoying, it did make a beautiful sight.

Once we got past the guides, and tried on some traditional costumes in one of the stalls outside, we went into what was probably the most amazing performance I’ve ever seen. If anyone does ever get a chance to go to Hangzhou, it is a must see although unfortunately, this blog may be a spoiler.

We headed into a theater with a massive screen welcoming students from UK universities, sat down and awaited the show somewhat unenthusiastically. It started out with what now seems somewhat of a gag performance with two men dressed in one piece leotards doing a balancing act with a ladder and two buckets of sand and boiling water. Whilst the audience appreciated the somewhat crude performance, in the words of one of my course-mates: “is it all going to be like this?” pretty much sums up our reactions.

The actual show was called “The Romance of the Song Dynasty”, a Romeo and Juliet-esque love story with two people from warring families. Although the show was entirely in mandarin, with some English subtitles on screen, it was easy to follow, through the mixture of song and dance, which went from beautiful, slow ballads in Mandarin to Arabic belly dancing to a mini Bollywood show: a surprising and one would think incongruent mixture; however it meshed together remarkably well.

For most of us, it was the sets that made the show spell-binding – it’s difficult to really do them justice. The performance started with two lines of dancing women dressed in red and gold doing a performance for who I presume was the emperor, sitting in a gold-lined chair. The entire backdrop was made up of a gold screen that gleamed under the red lighting. The show flitted from scene to scene, each time producing an indescribably beautiful performance.

I think my favourite scene, cheesy as this may sound, was where “Romeo” and “Juliet” turn into butterflies and stay together for eternity – a preferable ending to our rather morbid one. When the two characters met by Hangzhou’s famous “West Lake”, there was real water on stage, with a smoke machine creating mist to enhance the atmosphere.

For the slightly less romantic, the war scenes were equally amazing – a life like castle front with men climbing up real ropes and being thrown off. This was augmented by 3D animation on both sides of the stage, depicting the same thing, giving greater depth to the scene. As mentioned in one of my posts previously, live horses actually galloped across the stage carrying sword-wielding soldiers. When the canons went off, several people in the audience actually screamed!

Unfortunately, I haven’t had the chance to go to the theatre as often as I would have liked, however, even true theatre-aficionados said it was one of, if not, the best performance they’d ever seen. I really think Hangzhoue would be worth visiting just to see the performance!

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