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Thread: Monkey: Journey to the West from the creators of Gorillaz

  1. #1
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    Monkey: Journey to the West from the creators of Gorillaz

    This looks promising.
    A Western Detour for a Chinese Tale
    Chen Shi-Zheng’s Road to ‘Monkey: Journey to the West’




    Gilles Sabrie for The New York Times
    The director Chen Shi-Zheng in rehearsals with Yao Zhuoran for “Monkey: Journey to the West.”
    By EDWARD WONG
    Published: July 4, 2013

    JIANHU, China — WHEN Chen Shi-Zheng began rehearsals with the two actors he had chosen to play the lead in “Monkey: Journey to the West,” a pop-inflected international opera with a Chinese cast that opens the Lincoln Center Festival, he knew he had to break them of their past training.

    Opera's New Face

    The Monkey King, the mythical animal warrior in Chinese classical literature, is often portrayed as a prankster. But Mr. Chen, a veteran Chinese-born stage and film director living in New York, saw Monkey as a fighter who could be vicious and ill-tempered. That meant helping the actors understand the character’s motivations and mind-set — something they had never done before when they played Monkey in more traditional Peking opera productions.

    “The Chinese Monkey is very cute, even when he’s angry,” one of the actors, 32-year-old Wang Lu, said during a banquet after one of the final rehearsals in this city in eastern China. “This one has Western characteristics. He’s naughty. He’s a bad child. It took me a while to adjust.”

    Bridging Chinese and Western artistic approaches is a continuing challenge for Mr. Chen, whose first appearance at the Lincoln Center Festival, in 1999, was after a major run-in with Shanghai officials who objected to his experimental approach to “The Peony Pavilion,” a kunqu opera, a traditional form of Chinese theater. Most recently his adventurous 2012 production of another well-known opera, “Farewell My Concubine,” had several previews in Beijing but never officially opened. (It included video, choreographed fight scenes and a live horse onstage.)

    Many in the Peking opera establishment condemned his take on “Farewell,” and China Daily, an official English-language newspaper, ran a long article on the controversy with the headline “Innovation or Violation?”

    “I still haven’t had anything produced for the public in China,” Mr. Chen said with a smile. “I hope one day that will change.”

    Instead, his productions play the international festival circuit. After its 2007 debut at the Manchester International Festival and runs in Paris, London and at the Spoleto Festival U.S.A., “Monkey” begins performances at Lincoln Center on Saturday.

    Mr. Chen collaborated on the music and design with Damon Albarn, the frontman for the bands Blur and Gorillaz, and Jamie Hewlett, the animator of Gorillaz. Mr. Chen wrote the lyrics, which are in Mandarin. With 27 performances at Lincoln Center, “Monkey” will get the longest festival run ever, a sign of faith and also a risk on the part of festival organizers.

    The show takes as its starting point a Chinese fable based on the story of Xuanzang, the monk who made an epic overland journey to India to bring back venerated Buddhist texts. “Of all the Chinese classics, this is the funniest,” Mr. Chen said. “There’s a certain kind of freedom and exuberance.”

    The 41-member cast is a mix of Chinese acrobats, martial artists and Peking opera actors and singers. Only nine are returning from the show’s original run, and most of the acrobats are new. Twenty of them come from the Jiangsu Yancheng Acrobatic Company, based in the nearby city of Yancheng.

    For centuries, this region was known for producing some of China’s most talented acrobats. But there is little money to be made these days doing acrobatics in China, so the tradition is dying, and circus companies have shrunk. Mr. Chen “was looking for an acrobatic troupe with influence and power for this performance,” said Wu Qikai, head of the Yancheng troupe, which was founded in 1954. “We have that reputation in China.”

    In recasting principal roles, Mr. Chen was faced with finding performers flexible enough to shed aspects of their Chinese opera training, including the emphasis on emulating the styles of past great performances. After one run-through at an enormous new cultural center in this rural swath of Jiangsu Province, he gathered the main actors and delivered a short lecture in which he urged them to make their performances more natural.

    Li Li, 25, who plays the monk, said in an interview that her Peking opera training had not taught her how to embrace the kind of acting that Mr. Chen sought.

    In Peking opera, “I’m copying what the previous generation has left for us,” she said. “The way I’m judged is by the standard set by previous performers. This time, the previous generation didn’t help me.” The work “took me out of my comfort zone,” she added. “The director created a new language.”

    This new production of “Monkey” is the first work Mr. Chen has put together in China since the short-lived “Farewell My Concubine.” He was hired in late 2011 to direct a version of that story as, in essence, dinner theater at an upscale Beijing hotel owned by the Reignwood Group. Yan Bin, the Thai-Chinese founder of Reignwood, is a fan of both Chinese and Western opera.

    Looking past “Monkey,” Mr. Chen already has another opera in the works that he is aiming for next year’s Lincoln Center Festival — and it once again draws on a well-known Chinese tale, in this case “Legend of the White Snake.” Mr. Chen plans to include video and other experimental elements. The main investors are Chinese this time, but there are still no plans for it to be produced in China.
    Gene Ching
    Publisher www.KungFuMagazine.com
    Author of Shaolin Trips
    Support our forum by getting your gear at MartialArtSmart

  2. #2
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    This China Daily report

    Sort of the yin report to the NYT yang above.
    Monkey is king in New York City
    Updated: 2013-07-05 11:38
    By Kelly Chung Dawson in New York (China Daily)

    In the 1970s, a Japanese television show based on Journey to the West, a 16th century Chinese novel about a mischievous monkey and his band of friends, introduced a generation of British children to Chinese culture. That series, Monkey Magic, became a cult classic, captivating young viewers with its wacky mix of martial arts and Eastern morality.
    This summer, New York's Lincoln Center brings that story to life in an raucous stage production scored by Damon Albarn of the British pop group Blur; with animations and visual concept by Jamie Hewlett, the animator who, along with Albarn, created the Grammy Award-winning virtual music group Gorillaz. Both men were avid childhood fans of Monkey Magic, Hewlett told China Daily.
    Directed by Chen Shizheng, who helmed the first staging of Peony Pavilion at Lincoln Center Festival in 1999, Monkey: Journey to the West at Lincoln Center Festival features martial arts and acrobatics by the Jiangsu Yancheng Acrobatic Company, Chinese vocalists singing in Chinese (with subtitles), and youthful animation sequences reminiscent of the kind that has defined the Gorillaz.
    On a journey from China to India in search of sacred scriptures, the monk Tripitaka is accompanied by the Monkey King and two other companions, a pig and a horse. Among the lessons learned are the value of determination, loyalty, bravery and responsibility, according to Lu Wang, who plays the Monkey King. Lu has studied Peking opera for seventeen years, but found Monkey: Journey to the West to be the most creative production he's ever been a part of, he said.
    The show first debuted at the Manchester International Festival in England in 2007, then traveled on to Theatre du Chatelet in Paris, the Spoleto Festival USA and the Royal Opera House in London. The Lincoln Center production will run through July 28. The cast has been in the US since the middle of June, rehearsing eight hours a day. For many of the performers, it is their first trip to the US.
    "It's the kind of story that appeals to everybody," Hewlett said. "It's a small group of characters who have done stupid things in life and are given the opportunity to redeem themselves and become better individuals. Through their journey they figure out how to solve problems and find happiness. It doesn't matter who you are; we all have the potential to do great things. Everyone's concerned with fame and money and all that rubbish now, so it's a wonderful message."
    Hewlett, who won an award for his design of the titles for the BBC's coverage of the 2008 Beijing Olympics, traveled with Albarn multiple times to China while working on the music and aesthetics for the production, visiting Hong Kong, Beijing, Shanghai and a number of other cities. They even climbed Monkey Mountain in Lianyungang. On that same journey, Hewlett saw a shadow puppet show that inspired him with its lovely simplicity, an influence that can be seen in the animation in his show.
    Although the Monkey King has frequently been adapted for younger audiences, Monkey: Journey to the West aims for a broader audience. The inclusion of Albarn and Hewlett will appeal to viewers in their 20s and 30s, said Nigel Redden, director of the Lincoln Center Festival.
    While there are many ways to be introduced to Chinese culture, he believes it's important for Americans to see Chinese culture in its most modern incarnation, rather than just through viewing dusty bronzes.
    Beyond being an exciting story about friendship and loyalty, the tale of the Monkey King is also one of emotional depth, he said.
    "It's an adventure story, filled with daring-do and improbable challenges," he said, "but it's also a story - in some ways - about spiritual awakening, and spiritual awakening is important to anyone who has a spirit."
    Dong Bourui, who plays Sandy, said that for many Chinese children, the Monkey King is the first story they're ever taught.
    "This story has shaped the worldview of Chinese people from generation to generation," he said. "These are the values we teach children in China, and what's important to us."
    Chen, who wrote and directed the production, believes that the story of the Monkey King is an ideal entry point for Western audiences into Chinese culture. Chen previously directed Nixon in China at the Theatre du Chatelet in Paris. "This show is representative of what China will be in a hundred years," he said.
    Gene Ching
    Publisher www.KungFuMagazine.com
    Author of Shaolin Trips
    Support our forum by getting your gear at MartialArtSmart

  3. #3
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    check out the website

    Official site

    There's a cool vid, especially if you're into GorillaZ.
    Gene Ching
    Publisher www.KungFuMagazine.com
    Author of Shaolin Trips
    Support our forum by getting your gear at MartialArtSmart

  4. #4
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    ZOMG! So listening to this all day.
    Simon McNeil
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    Be on the lookout for the Black Trillium, a post-apocalyptic wuxia novel released by Brain Lag Publishing available in all major online booksellers now.
    Visit me at Simon McNeil - the Blog for thoughts on books and stuff.

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