“Silk Road” by the Gansu Dance Theatre

NEW YORK CITY |  Age-old frescoes come to vivid life in Gansu Dance Theatre’s Silk Road, an eye-popping classic dance drama that unravels at the David H. Koch Theater in Lincoln Center from February 27 through March 3.

This ornate spectacular arrives in New York as part of an ongoing showcase of Chinese performing arts made possible by the international promoter China Arts & Entertainment Group (CAEG) and the Ministry of Culture for the People’s Republic of China. It’s diplomacy by cultural means with peace and friendship as its themes.

An award winner in its native country, Silk Road is inspired by the 1,600-year Dunhuang frescoes: grotto art inside Chinese caves on the ancient Silk Road which have survived sandstorms, wars and Mao Zedong’s red guards.  Dunhuang was once a defensive and cultural center on the western borders of the Chinese empire and the site of important Buddhist monastic complexes. It is now a tourist spot overrun by so many visitors and carbon dioxide emissions over the millennial years that the region’s caretakers have been turning to computers to save them.

Permanence, however, is not a quality preserved in this award-winning classical Chinese dance drama. Silk Road presents a tale of the friendship forged during the Tang Dynasty between the China and the people of various countries along the Silk Road. To make possible its choreographic frescoes, the leading characters include master fresco painter Zhang, his daughter Yingniang, and the Persian merchant Yunus. For two hours, expect dazzling scenography, fabulously embroidered costumes and some 60 dancers.

Performance may be ephemeral in nature. Nevertheless, Silk Road promises to extol and commemorate the richness of Dunhuang culture, especially the working people who created that culture. It also reminds us that even then, China has been active in the process of globalization through the friendships the silk road had made possible.

"Silk Road," a landmark dance drama from China
“Silk Road,” a landmark dance drama from China

Silk Road was is an adaptation of an original creation entitled Silk Road, Flower Rain.  It thus offers New Yorkers a chance to see a dance drama spectacular that was chosen to celebrate the 30th anniversary of the Chinese National Holiday in 1979. In 1982, the original Silk Road, Flower Rain was put on the screen by Xi’an Movie Studio. The same year, it was performed on Italy’s La Scala Theater, becoming the first Asian group to perform in this world-class venue. In 1994, Silk Road, Flower Rain received the Golden Award during competition of Classic Dance Dramas of China of the 20th Century, and was crowned the milestone of dance dramas in China.

Since a 1979 debut, Silk Road, Flower Rain is estimated to have been staged some 1,600 times. In October, 2004, it was recorded by Shanghai World Jinisi as the “Best Dance Drama in China.” As a result, it has been seen in North Korea, France, Italy, Japan, Thailand, Union of Soviet Socialist Republics, Spain, Turkey, Hong Kong, and Macao. It is regarded as the role model of China folk dance drama.

This adaptation of Silk Road, Flower Rain was presented at the 29th Beijing Olympic Games in 2008. It was performed five times at Tianqiao Theater in Beijing.

Chosen by Propaganda Department of the Central Committee of the CPC and the Ministry of Culture, the production was again invited to Beijing to perform for the 60th anniversary of the National Holiday. The show, renewed again, was performed in the National Centre for the Performing Arts from July 29 to Aug. 2, 2009, with a total number of five performances. In 2009, the new edition Silk Road was awarded by the Ministry of Culture the “Award of Excellent and Classic Repertoire.”

Created by Gansu Song and Dance Theater in 1979, Silk Road  is a milestone event in Chinese culture. In fact, it is the latest program of “Image China,” a serial project by China Arts and Entertainment Group (CAEG).  According to Zhang Yu, president and general manager of CAEG, “Image China” began in 2009. “Through professional marketing, we have promoted dozens of outstanding Chinese stage performances to mainstream theaters in Europe, America and Oceania, and have enhanced the influence of Chinese performing arts internationally,” he says. “Silk Road is a time-honored play and we are confident that it will be welcomed by American audiences. And we also hope that Silk Road can survive a space in the competition in the U.S. and become a successful commercial show. ”

Gansu Dance Theater was established in 1961 to research, create, and perform music and dance that reflects the culture of Dunhuang. The company was formerly known as Gansu Song and Dance Troupe, and Dunhuang Art Theater of Gansu. In 1995, Gansu Dance Theater was awarded the title of National Advanced Cultural Institution by Ministry of Culture.

The China Arts and Entertainment Group (CAEG), the first large publicly-owned cultural enterprise, was formed from a merger of the China Performing Arts Agency (CPAA) and the China International Exhibition Agency. Its mission is to “transform Chinese culture and art institutions into modern enterprises.”  Under the auspices of the Ministry of Culture, it undertakes “cultural exchange projects to promote and enhance Chinese culture in other countries. CAEG annually runs more than 5,000 shows, exhibitions and comprehensive cultural activities in hundreds of cities, regions, and in countries around the world.”

Performances of Silk Road by the Gansu Dance Theatre will be Wednesday, February 27, 8pm; Friday, March 1, 8pm; Saturday, March 2, 8pm and Sunday, March 3 at 1 pm. There is No Thursday 2/28 performance. Tickets are: Orchestra & First Ring - $98, $78, $58, $38, $23 and there are also a few Premium Orchestra seats. Second Ring - $78, $58, $38, $23 and the Third Ring is $58, $38, & $23. Tickets are on sale: at the box office and by calling (212) 496-0600; or by Fax at (212) 580-2545 and on the web. http://davidhkochtheater.com/. The Media Sponsors are: World Journal, Sino TV, AM 1380, AM 1480, and Chinese American Voice.

“Silk Road” by the Gansu Dance Theatre
“Silk Road” by the Gansu Dance Theatre
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