‘A Song of Everlasting Sorrow’ is China’s first large-scale real-scene historical dance drama that revives a poetic masterpiece enduring through the Tang Dynasty period and reenacts the emotion and passion of the moving romantic story of the emperor and his concubine at the very scene where the story happened. The poem, of the same title, written by Tang Dynasty poet, Bai Juyi tells the tragic love story of Xuanzong, an emperor during the Tang Dynasty and his beloved Yang Guifei, his favorite concubine, believed to be connected to or having had unfortunate coincidence with the fall of the Tang Dynasty golden age.
This hour-long show, performed on an outdoor stage set against the magnificent natural backdrop of Lishan Mountain and on the Nine-Dragon Lake at the Huaqing Hot Spring, lets the audience feel the enigmatic charm of their love story. Created and produced by Shaanxi Tourism Corporation Group, the drama is an impressive production and features a lavish display of costume and props as well as stellar performances of actors, dancers, acrobats and singers. It makes use of the existing ancient architectural structures such as pavilions and colonnades as part of the scenic setting. It is a spectacular imagery of how history and culture, nature and art, real world and fantasy, and tradition and modern technology are creatively combined for a more aesthetic, compelling whole sensory experience in storytelling.
“The stage where it takes place is unique. The artists perform on the surface of a lake, where mountains and trees form the natural backdrop for the 1,000 square-meter water stage, which is set up slightly beneath the surface of the water and fixed on top of a mechanical lift. The show features almost 300 performers and boasts a 700 square-meter foldable soft LED screen (the largest in Asia), an Italian fragrant spreading system, laser effects, never ending fireworks, American fire-effect technology engulfing the water with brightly burning flames, Swiss high brightness video projectors creating a million flickering stars in a dream sky and fog rolling down a make-believe cascading waterfall. All these special effects are extremely realistic and it’s very hard to convince yourself they are not. When the moon rises from behind the karst, the only thing that proves that it is not really happening is the ‘real’ moon looking down from another corner of the sky.” (www.showbizfriends.com)
This is by far the best stage show I’ve ever seen, and a never-to-be-missed event in Xi’an City. I say that because I regret having taken the cheapest seat which was located on the wing side. The show is so much worth the price of a center seat, I tell you. It’s a typical drama of passion and power but sprinkled with a little phantasm and a lot of pageantry. And the minute it was over, I wanted to watch it again. Everything was just impressive: the lights and sound effects, the music, dances, costumes, stage and props. Even the fire and smoke were real! Timing and transition between acts were likewise noticeably quick and smooth. Narration was purely in Chinese, so it helps a lot if you read the synopsis in the promotional booklet found in travel agencies beforehand. Truly an amazing hour of entertainment, and if I may punctuate, a subtle but incredibly efficient way to inculcate Chinese cultural awareness among the audience.
PROLOGUE : The Young Lady of the Yang Family
This act tells of the first appearance of Yang Guifei. On the rippling surface of Nine Dragon Lake floats a white lotus blossom. Yang appears from inside the blossom dressed elegantly in a silk shawl. Against the dark sky, Yang flies gently like a fairy, bringing back the old days of Tang Dynasty.
FALLING IN LOVE
Act 1: Chosen to Attend to the Emperor
Emperor Xuanzong meets Yang for the first time and through her charm which outshines all the other ladies of the palace, he falls in love with her at first sight and bestows upon her a floral pattern gilded box as a token of his true love. A ceremony is held to confirm the title of concubine upon her. Against the blaze of light, the melody of music and the majestic palace, the Emperor and his new concubine drown themselves in a sea of happiness.
Act 2: Midnight Whispers
This a quiet and romantic act where Emperor Xuanzong and Yang Guifei fall further and madly in love with one another. Under the midnight sky twinkling with stars, they whisper to each other, gaze at the milky way and frolic amongst the flowers.
Act 3: Bathing in Huaqing Hot Springs
As the name suggests this is one of the more steamy acts. Yang wearing a thin chiffon gown, behind a waterfall curtain and accompanied by a group of court ladies, baths in the pool, to which she was granted use of by the Emperor.
THE INSEPARABLE COUPLE
Act 4: The Palace of Mount Li Reaches up to the Sky
This act shows the peak of the Tang Dynasty’s prosperity. Featuring grand heavenly music and majestic dance performances, amongst which there is also some tartar style dance that adds vitality to the Tang civilization and which Yang was very fond of.
Act 5: Intoxication at the Jade Tower
After Yang becomes drunk at a banquet held in the Jade Tower, she falls into an intoxicating dance among the willow trees in the mist over a lazy stream. Gao Lishi, the Emperor’s favorite eunuch, stands by ready to serve the drunken lady.
Act 6: Heavenly Music Carried Far and Wide
The Emperor and his concubine join each other in a dance amongst the glorious lands of the Imperial Palace at the foot of Mount Li, with the melodious music, elegant dancers and cheerful singers.
A FAREWELL TO THE LOVER
Act 7: The Yuyang Battle Drums Shake the Earth
This is the climax of the play in which the Lushan rebels occupy Tongguan and overthrow the capital. The attacking soldiers pass through the audience onto the stage. The flame of war burns along the mountain. The happy life of the Emperor is interrupted and the love story comes to an end, along with the Tang Dynasty.
Act 8: The Fallen Hairpin is Retrieved by No One
The Emperor flees with his Concubine. The soldiers demand the execution of Yang. Reluctantly, the Emperor has no choice, but to have his beloved hanged. Yang dies under the sad moonlit night. Sorrowful songs linger in the empty and cold valley.
REUNIFICATION IN FAIRYLAND
Act 9: The Union in Heaven or on Earth
In the Emperor’s dream, he meets Yang again in an imaginary place where they hold hands, express their love in tears and renew their commitment and avowal. Fairies in colorful silk garb dance to celebrate the couple’s reunification. Doves fly into the air sealing what they had vowed to each other: “in the sky, we’d be two lovebirds flying wing to wing; on earth, two trees with branches twined from spring to spring.” The story ends with Yang ‘walking into the light’ and Emperor Tang performing a very sad dance.
Below is a clip that’s almost half the entire show. Just bear with the low quality video, esp in the first parts, and my unsteady hand 🙂
And here’s a clip from the DVD release: