It's all in the preparation, which takes a year. Authentic costumes, precise choreography and stunning backdrops make NTDTV's Chinese New Year Spectacular a feast for the eyes.
The Divine Performing Arts dancers, which tour with the Spectacular, take center stage of course. The Spectacular is unique among Chinese cultural shows in the effort it makes to bring the past to the present. The dances convey China's 5,000 years of history and a multitude of folk traditions, from Tibet to Mongolia to the Yunnan region as well as dances of the royal court.
Yung Yung Tsuai is one of the Divine Performing Arts choreographers and a teacher at the Martha Graham School of Contemporary Dance. As a choreographer and dance teacher, Tsuai helps the show's hundreds of dancers prepare for the year's performance. That preparation includes daily rehearsals that begin right after the Spectacular tour ends for the year.
For Tsuai the nature of the performance is as important as the skill with which it is carried out.
"When art presents the beauty and positive side of human nature, it can positively influence people in how they relate to others in their daily lives," she said.
She emphasized that the Spectacular is unique because of the way it transports the audience to a time when human beings emphasized chivalry, loyalty and honesty.
"We are not just showing people traditional Chinese culture; we are waking up the part of them that yearns for beauty and goodness," said Tsuai.
Colorful Authentic Costumes
While the dances and the themes of the choreography carry the traditions of China's ancient culture, the costumes convey that authenticity with resplendent color. Like the dances, preparing the costumes is a long and painstaking process.
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The costumes begin with a concept of the dance. If the dance is set in a dynasty, the costume must be true to the history of the time, says principal designer Amy Lee.
"When I came to the United States, I saw it was very difficult to find any expression of traditional Chinese culture. Through this show I see the hope of being able to preserve my culture for the benefit of my daughter and the next generation."
Designers reference paintings, frescoes and statues from the period to gain insight into the dress, hair, shoes and accessories of the time. They sketch potential outfits with the understanding that not only must they be true to the era, but they must also allow dancers flexibility to whirl and leap throughout 80 performances.
Sketches become potential costumes after going to the costume shop. A pattern is made and a sample created. If approved, the sample becomes the first of dozens. If rejected, the process begins again.
Lee emphasized the deeper characteristics of the costumes. "Clothing isn't just a way to cover the body. It also reflects a person's thoughts, culture and respect for the gods."
Hi-tech Backdrops for an Ancient Culture
But all the dancing and dazzling costumes need a setting, a place from which to launch their historical renditions. That sense of place is where loyalty to the past gets a technological boost from the present.
That boost is a hi-tech mix of art, photo-electricity and projected backgrounds.
The Spectacular uses this blend to create animated backdrops that bring the landscape and architecture of ancient China to theaters around the world.
Jim Chu, one of New Tang Dynasty's digital design experts, said the process begins seven or eight months before the show. Like the costumes, the process begins with researching books, paintings and whatever else might allow them to illuminate history.
Every small detail needs to be accurate, he said.
"We couldn't have a Ming Dynasty window or a Qing Dynasty door in a Tang building. Some expert in the audience would probably catch it," he joked.
Also like the dances and the costumes, the backdrops have a greater singular purpose that requires such demanding research. All must work together to bring the past, the true nature of ancient China, into the present. For eras like the Tang Dynasty, where virtue and piety were emphasized in daily life, to recreate the past is to bring the best of human culture to life.
In the end dancers, costumes and backdrops work together to bring to audiences some of the most refined periods the world has ever known. Of course, there are other elements that play a part as well. Props such as giant lotuses on which Buddhas sit, flags and swords must also be crafted.
There is a year of preparation for the Divine Performing Arts Orchestra as well. But that is another story.
To find a Divine Performing Arts near you, visit: www.DivinePerformingArts.org .
The Epoch Times is a proud sponsor of the Divine Performing Arts company. For our complete coverage please visit: http://en.epochtimes.com/features/dpa2008/