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President Praises 'Heaven on Earth' Event

Hangzhou, dubbed "Heaven on Earth" for its beautiful scenes and benign climate, is embracing a grand art carnival -- the Seventh China Arts Festival, which lasts 17 days from September 10 till 26.

During the country's top arts gala, local people will have the chance to enjoy about 100 traditional operas, musicals, dramas and song and dance performances from all over the country, including Hong Kong, Macao and Taiwan at this capital of east China's Zhejiang Province and the province's cities of Shaoxing, Wenzhou, Jiaxing and Ningbo.

Meanwhile, 24 arts exhibitions and seminars involving painting, photography, Chinese calligraphy and fashion design will also be held during the festival.

For the first time in the arts festival's history, 73 "representatives of the audience" were selected to form a panel to vote for the "most popular plays" and "most popular performers" with the audience.

And as usual, eight foreign performance groups, including the prestigious Berlin Philharmonic and the Hungarian national ballet troupe, were invited to stage concerts, dance dramas and musicals to add an international touch to the domestic arts event.

The theatres at Hangzhou have been preparing for the art festival with advanced stage equipment to present the audience with scenarios of the watery landscape in southern China and various ancient operas.

In a display of the organizers' attempt to make the arts festival enjoyable to everyone, the 1.5-hour entertainment show at the opening ceremony on September 10, which was broadcast live nationwide via China Central Television, featured the combination of a host of arts forms including both Chinese and Western, traditional and modern, as well as those typical of China's ethnic minority groups.

According to the directors of the show, the performance involved more than 800 performers from 40-strong troupes and arts schools across the country.

What impressed the audience most was the introduction of a 54-metre-long, 9-metre-wide and 1-metre-deep "artificial river" on the stage. Some 20 small boats floated on the water.

The idea of keeping 350 tons of water in a 9,000-seat gymnasium reminded many of the opening ceremonies of the latest two Olympic Games in Sydney 2000 and Athens 2004, where the Australian and Greek artists also employed a lot of water to amaze the global audience.

"It was fantastic that they designed this on-stage river. It was just like the real countryside life I saw in my childhood," said an elderly member of the audience.

For centuries, farmers living in the waterway-abundant Zhejiang had developed a hobby of watching river-side performance of traditional operas on their boats, something similar to the drive-in show in modern Western countries.

To make room for the river setting, the gymnasium had to sacrifice nearly half of its seating capacity and therefore only some 5,000 people watched the opening ceremony on the scene.

However, sources said that since August 31 the organizers had been holding full-length dress rehearsals every evening to "satisfy all who wanted to see it."

For 53-year-old retiree Yu Zhuya, her favorite theatre is Huanglongdong Park, where she could spend merely 10 yuan (US$1.20) and enjoy Shaoxing Opera, favorite for many locals, at the bank of the scenic West Lake for a whole day.

Set up in 1988, the Shaoxing Opera troupe at Huanglongdong Park is among the first batch of non-governmental troupes in Zhejiang and over 30 players perform there each day to entertain the park-goers and tourists from home and abroad.

"There are over 1,000 folk opera troupes like ours in Zhejiang and they usually perform at the countryside for the rural residents with relatively low income," said Meng Kejuan, deputy director of Huanglongdong Shaoxing Opera Troupe.

Other opera fans organized themselves to perform at the West Lake. Though dressed in modern clothes, they let out ancient singing, walking and posing elegantly, telling love tales or political dramas in ancient courts.

The festival also prepared some especially reasonable tickets for senior citizens, priced at about 20 to 50 yuan (US$6.02) each. "I hope to get one such ticket to catch glimpses of my favorite Shaoxing Opera stars," Yu said.

Meanwhile, ancient paintings and traditional Chinese calligraphic exhibitions are also shown at local museums.

For young people who love dramatic stories instead of the century-long art genre, the festival's committee also prepares Hollywood blockbusters. With Harry Potter III premiered at Hangzhou, a film festival started on the same day as part of the art festival, including 15 latest feature movies from home and abroad.

Broadway musical classic "The Sound of the Music," staged in the port city of Ningbo between September 10 and 16, was quite a huge market success as tickets for the total eight shows sold very well.

The American musical has come to China on the first leg of its Asian tour to mark the 45th anniversary of its Broadway debut in 1959.

The first Chinese Art Festival was held at Beijing in 1987 and has been held every three years since across the country. The Seventh China Arts Festival is acclaimed as the largest one.

"The China Arts Festival is not only an occasion for our cultural and artistic workers to display their talent and excellent works, but also a time for festivities and celebration of our people," said Chinese President Hu Jintao, in a congratulatory message to the festival's opening ceremony.

The president called on all Chinese artists to "go deep into the vibrant life" and create more "artistic classics in rich and colorful forms that cater to the taste of the people."

With the programs unfurling across the city, the "Heaven of Earth" is turning into a "Heaven of arts."

(China Daily September 21, 2004)

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