China is hoping that a much-acclaimed kungfu dance drama that
did roaring trade domestically will find as much success in
overseas markets and spread the country's cultural influence.
"Shaolin in the Wind", a fusion of traditional martial arts and
modern dance techniques, will be performed in Australia next year,
marking its first foray overseas after experiencing resounding
success at home, the troupe organizer said.
The drama tells a poignant love story about two star-crossed
lovers who are separated during wartime. The leading actor, who is
rescued by the abbot of Shaolin Temple, takes up martial arts and
later leads the Shaolin monks in expelling the enemy. He thereafter
dedicates himself to Buddhism and kungfu.
Established in 2004 by central China's Zhengzhou Song and Dance
Troupe with an investment of 10 million yuan (US$1.3 million), the
dance drama is the first stage performance to combine kungfu and
terpsichorean arts. It put on its 101st and 102nd shows at the
ongoing 8th China Arts Festival in the central Hubei Province. As
has been its history, the box-office was a huge success.
Artistic achievement and market popularity won the drama the
Lotus Prize in 2005, China's highest accolade for dance. Of the 102
shows the troupe has staged, 14 were performed in Hong Kong and
Taiwan. The performances have taken in a total box office of about
12 million yuan (1.4 million U.S. dollars).
"We are talking with entertainment companies in Japan, South
Korea, the United States and many countries. Most likely, our first
28 shows outside China will be in Australia next year," said Zhang
Xiangrong, head of Zhengzhou Song and Dance Troupe.
The U.S. Landmark Entertainment Group has also expressed
interest in purchasing the exclusive rights to stage "Shaolin in
the Wind" stateside.
"But we were advised to make adaptations and shorten the time of
the dance to give a predominant role to the martial arts as
overseas audiences are most interested in Chinese kungfu," Zhang
Qiao Hongliang, the troupe's martial arts coach, said many
people learn to appreciate the beauty of Chinese kungfu after
watching the dance drama.
"The kungfu combat in the drama is very different from what is
in the movies. It is less violent and more beautiful. I think the
drama will help to promote kungfu internationally."
Of the 110 troupe members, 27 are kungfu practitioners and the
others are professional dancers. The dancers, however, have all
been sent to martial arts schools to practice kungfu, according to
As "42nd Street" has just finished its run of eight performances
in Hubei and is continuing its China tour in Beijing, "Shaolin"
organizers say they would like to follow in the global success of
the Broadway musical comedy.
"More than 5,000 performances of "42nd Street' have been held
around the world. We hope 'Shaolin in the Wind' can be as popular
as those Broadway classics and we have a shining selling point --
Chinese kungfu," said Sun Zhaohui, the art troupe's deputy
Chinese kungfu movies, including Ang Lee's "Crouching Tiger,
Hidden Dragon" and Zhang Yimou's "Hero" and "House of Flying
Daggers" all had box-office success overseas. Many industry
observers are viewing the dance drama as the next kungfu hit.
"There is just one Shaolin Temple in China," Qiao said. "We
can't just rely on it to make kungfu better known. Movies, TV
dramas, martial art training schools and commercial shows are all
necessary to promote this gem of Chinese culture."
Amid criticism of inadequate support to popularize the martial
arts, the central government and civil societies have started to
make efforts to promote the ancient arts and raise its
international profile in recent years.
Prominent visitors, including Russian President Vladimir Putin
and Olympic chief Jacques Rogge, were invited to Shaolin Temple,
the birthplace of Chinese kungfu. The temple has also dispatched
martial art monks to more than 20 countries to conduct training and
exchange programs with the aim "to spread the word of Buddhismand
the Shaolin culture".
At present, there are more than one million students of
Shaolinkungfu around the world since the first center of Shaolin
culture was built in Berlin in 2001. Since then, more than 10
centers and branches have also been established.
Martial arts will also be showcased during next year's Beijing
Olympics, although it will not be an official sport.
At the 17th Party Congress concluded last month, President Hu
Jintao urged the nation to stimulate cultural creativity, enhance
culture as part of the soft power of the country, and to promote
the vigorous development and prosperity of culture.
The country has been exerting itself to present its culture to
the world by staging heritage exhibitions and art performances
abroad. In an effort to promote Chinese language and culture
abroad, China plans to set up 100 "Confucius Institutes" around the
Critics believe such "cultural exports" will provide effective
leverage to boost China's traditions and win the country friendship
and appeal around the world.
(Xinhua News Agency November 17, 2007)