"In heaven, there is paradise; on earth, it's Suzhou and Hangzhou". This popular saying captures very well the charm of Hangzhou.
Situated in China's eastern province of Zhejiang, Hangzhou was once described by the 13th century Italian traveler Marco Polo as "the most splendid and luxurious city in the world". This is most evident in the West Lake area, the city's most prominent scenic spot.
Hills embrace the lake on three sides; the city proper lies to the east. Ancient Chinese people praised the West Lake area as a land of intoxicating beauty. "In heaven, there is paradise; on earth, it's Suzhou and Hangzhou". This popular saying captures very well the charm of Hangzhou.[Photo Source: CRIENGLISH.com]
Nestled amid hilly peaks on three sides, the lake has been inspiring poets of great acclaim for centuries.
Following the success of "Impression Liu Sanjie" and "Impression Lijiang", renowned Chinese director Zhang Yimou is now extending his outdoor musical series to the picturesque West Lake. The result is a unique outdoor production titled "Impression West Lake."
Wang Chaoge, co- director of the play, explains their initiative.
"The beauty of the West Lake goes far beyond its natural scenery. Its stories and cultural heritage make the place more appealing. It's meaningless to replicate the plant and hills. Instead, we try to create a space for imagination. It is a great challenge for us to turn real nature into an imaginary fairyland in people's minds. "
Zhang Yimo has this to say.
"The preparation involves a lot of research. It's not something you can do by reading a couple of traveling pamphlets. Instead, you have to consult with local scholars and industry officials to understand the essence of the cultural legacy. We have to see what is most representative of the west lake. Otherwise, we wouldn't even know where to start."
The story the production team is looking for is "The Legend of the White Snake", set in the Southern Song Dynasty in the Westlake.
As the story goes, a female white snake demon, Bai Suzhen or Lady White, dreams of becoming a goddess. So she takes on mortal form and steps into the human world. On the broken bridge of the West Lake, she meets a handsome scholar Xu Xian, who saved her life in the previous life. The two fall in love and get married.
A monk intervenes in order to save the scholar's soul and casts Lady White into a deep well at the Leifeng Pagoda.
Over time, the tale has evolved from a horror story to one of romance. Together with other legends of the lake, it rests quietly in every corner within the landscape.
Set around Su Causeway and Curved Yard and Lotus Pool, on the water of Yue Lake, is the musical's natural stage.
When the night falls, colored lighting shrouds the lake, with hills and water as its backdrop.
Lady White walks across the water to meet her lover Xu Xian coming in a small boat. The stage is set three centimeters below the lake and can descend a further half a meter.
When the light fades, we can see fish and lotus lanterns - played by hundreds of actors - glimmer in the dark. And with the help of modern technology, a "bridge of heaven" rises into the sky, uniting the long-separated couple at end of the play.
Audiences from across the world are fascinated by the spectacle.
"I'm from Taiwan. I'm deeply touched by "The legend of the White Snake". It is such a splendorous production. I've never seen anything like it anywhere else in the world."
"I'm from Poland. I'm here for the second time. It's so fantastic, so beautiful. I'm coming back once more for sure. Because each time, it's completely different. It's enormous beautify, which I adore so much."
While the play continues to thrill audiences, the production team is finding ways to protect the environment of the West Lake while the show is being staged. Many movie crews have failed to care for the environment during shoots in the past. Over time, breathtakingly beautiful pictures have strongly featured in Chinese blockbusters. Yet there are persistent news headlines about production teams not caring for the environment. The stunning beauty caught on camera is in sharp contrast with the destruction outside of it.
Under intense media pressure, Chinese movie professionals are also changing. Zhang Yimo is the pioneer of this green trend.
"The environment of the West Lake does not only belong to the city of Hangzhou, or China. It belongs to the whole world. The performance is just a small example when one takes into account the large environmental issue. We've spent a year on environmental protection. Even the route for the audience to enter and exit the site is designed to be environmentally friendly."
Fan Yue is another co-director of the show.
"Every night, we are in for a quality performance. But during the day time, removable seats are stashed away, the stage descends under the water and the boat and light pull away. The originality of the West Lake is kept intact. We spare no effort to protect the environment."
As a residential performance, "Impression West Lake" is on show all year round. This visual spectacle is becoming a major draw for visitors in Hangzhou, for everyone to experience the beauty of China.
China.org.cn editor's note: The "Impressions Of The West Lake" is highlighted by music composed by the Grammy and Golden Globe Award winning artist Kitaro. Listen to the music clips here.
(Xinhua News Agency April 2, 2009)