Famed monkey takes a new direction in New York

Updated: 2013-07-06 02:25

By KELLY CHUNG DAWSON in New York (China Daily)

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Famed monkey takes a new direction in New York

A scene from Monkey: Journey to the West. PROVIDED TO CHINA DAILY

Pop star, top animator help bring fresh take to a Chinese classic

In the 1970s, a Japanese television show based on Journey to the West, a 16th century Chinese novel about a mischievous monkey and his friends, introduced a generation of British children to Chinese culture.

That series, Monkey, became a cult classic, captivating viewers with its wacky mix of martial arts and Eastern morality.

This summer, New York's Lincoln Center is bringing that story to life in a raucous stage production scored by Damon Albarn of the British pop group Blur.

Animations and visual concept are by Jamie Hewlett, the animator who along with Albarn created the Grammy Award-winning virtual music group Gorillaz. Both men were avid childhood fans of Monkey, Hewlett told China Daily.

Directed by Chen Shizheng, who helmed the first staging of the Ming Dynasty play Peony Pavilion at the Lincoln Center Festival in 1999, Monkey: Journey to the West is being staged at this year's festival.

It features martial arts and acrobatics by the Jiangsu Yancheng Acrobatic Company, Chinese vocalists singing in Chinese with subtitles, and animation sequences reminiscent of the type that defined Gorillaz.

The story centers on a journey from China to India in search of sacred scriptures made by a monk accompanied by the Monkey King and other companions.

Among the lessons learned are the value of determination, loyalty, bravery and responsibility, according to Lu Wang, who plays the Monkey King.

Lu has studied Peking Opera for 17 years, but said he found Monkey: Journey to the West the most creative production he has taken part in.

The show made its debut at the Manchester International Festival in England in 2007 before being staged at the Theatre du Chatelet in Paris, Spoleto Festival USA and the Royal Opera House in London.

The Lincoln Center production runs until July 28 and the cast has been in the United States since the middle of June, preparing for eight hours a day. For many of the performers it is their first trip to the US.

"It's the kind of story that appeals to everybody," Hewlett said. "It's a small group of characters who have done stupid things in life and are given the opportunity to redeem themselves and become better individuals."

"Through their journey, they figure out how to solve problems and find happiness. It doesn't matter who you are; we all have the potential to do great things. Everyone's concerned with fame and money and all that rubbish now, so it's a wonderful message."

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