Good impression

Updated: 2013-03-22 07:33

By Hu Haiyan (China Daily)

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 Good impression

Wang Chaoge has her sights set on taking her shows overseas to promote Chinese culture. Provided to China Daily

Director Wang Chaoge has wowed Chinese audiences with her cultural shows and now hopes to take them overseas to promote the country's culture

Theater director Wang Chaoge is excited about the potential of China's culture industry. The 48-year-old CEO of Beijing Impression Show Co Ltd believes Chinese companies can sucessfully expand overseas and develop into large international brands similar to what Disney has achieved.

Unlike many of her peers in the artistic community, Wang is equally interested in pursuing both art and business.

"In China, there is a popular belief that there exist conflicts between the arts and business, which means that a good artist cannot be a good businessman. For me this mindset is unreasonable and the two are complementary to each other's development. This is why I am both artist and businesswoman, always switching mode between financial sheets and artistic creation," says Wang, who co-directed the opening ceremony to the Beijing 2008 Olympic Games with Zhang Yimou and Fan Yue.

That team, dubbed "the golden triangle of directors", has worked together on seven open-air shows since 2003, each about the culture of a specific area of China.

Their most recent show is called Seeing Pingyao Again, which focuses on the culture of Pingyao county in Shanxi province.

"The natural environment, including mountains, rivers and trees, is what inspires us to do these live shows," says Wang. "From Lijiang River and Yulong Snow Mountain, to West Lake and Hainan's seashore, whenever we settle on a site, we hope to make full use of its scenic landscape.

"We live in a time of visual art. Avatar has shown how magical visual techniques can be. We follow that trend, blending the movies into our live shows through technology to create a dreamy fairytale."

Wang has been impressed by the passion of performers used in the shows.

"On average more than 70 percent of actors in the shows have been local villagers," she says. "Some of them can't speak standard Mandarin and some are very new to the stage, but their natural acting ability makes up for this.

"As the show reflects their real life they are eager to share it with the audience."

Each show offers insight into aspects of local culture with the aim of promoting it to the outside world. Impression Dahongpao, for example, is named after a precious tea that has been grown for centuries on the Wuyi Mountains in Fujian province, a UNESCO World Heritage site.

"We wish to turn the performance into a real-life museum, which provides a stage for local folk culture to be exhibited and promoted," she says.

More than 2 million people have watched the shows across China to date and audiences will soon be treated to a new one before the end of this year.

Wang now has her sights set on taking the shows overseas to promote Chinese culture.

"The shows are vivid and true reflections of Chinese culture and Chinese people's life," she says. "If they can be introduced to foreign nations, it will be beneficial for Chinese culture."

Wang has already had a taste of taking Chinese culture overseas. In 2006 she directed like opera The First Emperor of Qin, in New York's Metropolitan Opera House, with Zhang Yimou and Fan Yue. Placido Domingo played the leading role.

"It was just the beginning of our march overseas," she says. "Now I want to lead the Impression shows to go global, letting more people understand and love our Chinese culture."

The company has received invitations from Canada, the United States and South Korea and hopes to expand even further, Wang says.

Wang graduated from the Communication University of China in 1988 and quickly forged a reputation in the theater industry as a passionate artist. Her show The Soul of the Chinese People, performed in China's national theater house The Great Hall of the People in 1995, won her national recognition.

Fan says of her, "Wang is so strong-minded and perseverant that sometimes you think she is more a man than a woman. Without her efforts, the Impression Show could not achieve such rapid progress."

Despite their popularity, the shows have been controversial in China, with critics saying they are simply duplications of one another in terms of style and even stage settings.

Speaking in her typical fast and quick tone, Wang says such criticism is expected whenever artists try new things.

"The series shows is not just pure replication," she says. "Each show has its own innovation and uniqueness, although all of them are under the same brand name Impression."

The Dahongpao show's 2,000-seat auditorium revolved four times during the 70-minute performance, giving the audience a 360-degree view of the stage.

Wang believes China's cultural industry is a long way behind that of the West, but has developed rapidly in recent years. One issue it faces is that the Chinese public is not accustomed to spending much money on cultural pursuits, she says.

"Generally speaking, people in developed nations spend about 20 percent of their income in the culture industry, such as watching drama or opera," she says. "But in China, people are more likely to spend their money on buying more material things like apartments."

As living standards have improved spending on culture has risen but the industry could do with greater government support, she adds.

"It is common to see many opera houses here in China run at a loss or with little profit," she says. "The government should invest more effort into helping the public entertainment industry, such as opera houses, for the sound development of the Chinese cultural industry."

The Impression Show company is in a fortunate position compared to much of the culture industry, according to Wang.

"We can make a living just through the performance ticket revenue, aside from the investment we have received from large private equity investors such as IDG Capital," she says.

The firm aims to develop into a more complete business, according to Wang.

"Some Western cultural companies, such as Disney, make profits not only through their films or dramas, but also by some derivative products," she says. "For us, we are not aiming at just producing shows, but at building up a complete industry to make the business develop in a more sustainable way."

The company has already begun this process, selling local tea and cultural gifts associated with the Impression Dahongpao show.

"Based on the huge domestic market and potential for China's cultural industry overseas, with our perfect combination of art and business skills I believe the Impression shows will become a world-renowned label like Disney," says Wang.

(China Daily 03/22/2013 page20)