Silk Road arrives in New York promising to excite audiences

Updated: 2013-02-28 11:41

By Caroline Berg in New York (China Daily)

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 Silk Road arrives in New York promising to excite audiences

Chen Chen performs the lead role of Yingniang, the daughter of a Mogao Grottoes muralist from the Tang Dynasty in Gansu province in northwestern China, in the dramatic production of Silk Road. Caroline Berg / China Daily

Silk Road arrives in New York promising to excite audiences

Giant frescoes served as the backdrop last night as 60 dancers in colorful costumes from China's Gansu Dance Theater performed the New York debut of the award-winning Silk Road production at Lincoln Center.

"We feel very honored to have been invited to perform at Lincoln Center," Lu Jinlong, president and senior director of Gansu Dance Theater, said at a press conference earlier in the day at the David H. Koch Theater, where the troupe is performing.

Four performances through March 3 are being presented.

Silk Road is inspired by the Dunhuang frescoes in China's northwestern Gansu province. The dance tells a tale of a cross-culture friendship forged over a millennium ago during the Tang Dynasty (AD 618-907) between Yingniang, the daughter of a Chinese fresco painter, and Yunus, a Persian merchant.

This is the second time the Gansu dance troupe has traveled to the US to perform Silk Road. In 2011, the group performed in Washington, Maryland and Pennsylvania.

"We know Lincoln Center holds high standards for the performances it produces," Lu said. "After our experience in Washington, we have gone back and looked at our production and worked very seriously to make improvements for our show in New York."

Lu said improvements were made in lighting and costumes, all of which are for the four performances that run through March 3 in New York.

"It is our hope that our performances will excite American audiences," Lu said. "We have worked hard to put together the best production of this story."

The original production premiered in Beijing's Great Hall of the People on Oct 1, 1979, China's National Day. Silk Road has since been performed for foreign cultural exchange programs in more than 30 countries and regions, including France, Spain, Russia, Turkey and Latvia.

Due to its overwhelming domestic success, the Silk Road production has established Dunhuang dance as a model of traditional Chinese dance drama worldwide.

The Gansu Dance Theater was formed in 1961 to research, create and perform music and dance reflecting the culture of Dunhuang. In 1995, Gansu Dance Theater was awarded the title of National Advanced Cultural Institution by China's Ministry of Culture and is now supported by the China Arts and Entertainment Group (CAEG), the first large publicly owned cultural enterprise in China. CAEG is the result of a merger between the China Performing Arts Agency (CPAA) and the China International Exhibition Agency.

The theater has a staff of 260 people, including the dance troupe, an orchestra, stage dcor studio, dcor design studio, audio and video production department, dance education institution and a children's arts training institution.

The production of Silk Road reflects the dance traditions and history of the region.

The historic Silk Road began in Chang'an, now modern day Xi'an, in China and stretched to Constantinople, now Istanbul in Turkey. The city of Dunhuang was the gateway in western China where many cultures met and camels and food were traded and guards were arranged for the journey through the dangerous Taklamakan Desert.

The Dunhuang frescoes that inspired the Silk Road drama are in the Mogao Grottoes - a system of 492 temples 25 kilometers southeast of the center of Dunhuang. The caves are considered to contain some of the finest examples of Buddhist art spanning 1,000 years.

The lead performers, Chen Chen and Huang Deshuang, said part of their preparation for this production included traveling to Dunhuang to study the frescoes so they could better evoke their characters.

(China Daily 02/28/2013 page7)