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High Hopes for Overseas Debut of Kungfu Dance Drama
    2007-11-17 15:12:21     Xinhua

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 (1.3 million U.S. dollars), 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 said.

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 Qiao.

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 head.

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 Buddhism and the Shaolin culture".

At present, there are more than one million students of Shaolin kungfu 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 world.

Critics believe such "cultural exports" will provide effective leverage to boost China's traditions and win the country friendship and appeal around the world.

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