Musical Mulan drums up excitement

Updated: 2012-12-21 15:06

By Kelly Chung Dawson in New York (China Daily)

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Musical Mulan drums up excitement

The Red Poppy Ladies, an all-female percussion group from China, will bring a modern style of drumming to its performance of Mulan the Musical, through mid-January in New York’s theater district. Provided to China Daily

The legend of Hua Mulan, a young peasant girl who disguises herself as a man to take the place of her ailing father in combat, was first immortalized in the 6th-century Chinese poem Ballad of Mulan, which reads in part:

"A dozen volumes of battle rolls, each one with my father's name / My father has no grown-up son, and I have no elder brother / I am willing to buy a horse and saddle, to go to battle in my father's place ... Ten thousand miles [I] rode in war, crossing passes and mountains as if on a wing."

In 1998, Walt Disney Co brought the story to the West with an animated movie that ultimately grossed $304 million and earned Academy Award and Golden Globe nominations.

This holiday season, the Red Poppy Ladies, an all-female percussion group from China, is staging the classic story in New York, in a wordless percussion-and-dance production that runs through Jan 13 at the Peter Jay Sharp theater near Times Square.

Since its founding in 1999, the group has toured over 20 countries, giving 2,500 performances in venues including the Sydney Opera House. It also played at the closing ceremony of the 2008 Olympics in Beijing.

"This particular company is extremely unusual because it's 35 women, and they are essentially performing a Chinese version of Stomp with a plotline and no dialogue," producer Bill Meade told China Daily.

"They're taking a traditional story and creating something very new and fresh, and it's quite unusual. They're making this classic story relevant to modern audiences, in a way that's never been done before. It's a huge risk."

Mulan the Musical will feature music by Dong Gang, Ma Lin, Zhang Junpeng, Wang Han and Liu Oian.

The title role is performed by Du Qianqian.

"I think the best thing about Chinese culture is that it's constantly evolving," he said. "Most of the Chinese culture that people in the West have been exposed to is very limited, and what they are doing here is really unique."

Most Chinese performance groups that tour the United States present traditional interpretations of their art form, he said. The Red Poppy Ladies oIer a modern twist on percussion.

Although the production has some voice-over narration, the story is told mainly through percussion, dance and martial arts.

"American audiences have a really special chance to learn about Chinese music and this thousand-year tradition of drumming in China," director Zhou Li told China Daily.

"Drumming is exciting and passionate and powerful, so it's particularly fitting for this famous story."

While American audiences are more familiar with the Disney movie, the story has long been a staple

of Chinese folklore. In the original poem, Hua Mulan demonstrates tremendous bravery and love for her father.

"It's a great lesson for young people and children," Zhou said. "She is honest and strong. It's a very popular, familiar story and it has these ideas that are very important in Chinese culture: She helped her father, her family and her country. We think it's a good lesson to remind young women to do their best.

"It's a great show to see together as a family at Christmas. It's easy to understand, it's exciting and the feeling and expression will feel true and the same for both Chinese and American audiences."

Although many of the scenes involve battle, the story also details Mulan's everyday life as a young person in China, Zhou said.

The themes in Mulan are universal, Meade said.

"It's about love, loyalty and family. But also girl power, because this shy girl ends up leading the army, and it's incredibly heroic.

"It's a dramatic story, and a reminder than anybody can accomplish anything. It's an inspiring thought."

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