As one of the time-honored Chinese music genres, Nanyin or Nankuan music is recognized as "the living fossil" in Chinese music history.
Recently in the Forbidden City, a Taiwan Nanyin music ensemble, Han-Tang Yuefu, brought a 1,000 year old ancient painting to life.
The so-called Nanyin in Taiwan, meaning "Southern Tones", originated in China's southeast coastal province of Fujian.
The music was brought to the island by the first waves of immigrants at the end of the 16th century. Due to unique geographical and economic conditions of the coastal area, Nanyin was able to hold out and maintain the ancient Han tongue.
Meanwhile, it managed to keep in tact arts of traditional music, dances, drama and folk customs that were eroding fast everywhere else in Chinese mainland.
Chen Mei-o, the founder and art director of Han-Tang Yuefu Ensemble, explains the cultural heritage of Nanyin.
"Nanyin music is one of the most ancient and best preserved intangible cultural heritages of China to date. The history of Nanyin can at least be traced back to Han dynasty; its music dates back to the Tang dynasty."
One of the oldest visual representations of Nanyin music and the world it relates to is a painting called the Feast of Han Xizai, which Han-Tang Yuefu has turned into a music drama of the same title.
Chen Mei-o talks about her initiative to stage the show.
"This is the first visit of Han-Tang Yuefu Ensemble to the motherland. Therefore we would like to present the Feast of Han Xizai as our first gift to our fellows."
It's our utmost honor to be able to present this musical drama in the Forbidden City, which truly combines the intangible cultural heritage with the tangible."
The Feast of Han Xizai, a painting dating back to Tang dynasty 1000 years ago, is now kept in the National Museum of Beijing in the Forbidden City.
There is a fascinating story behind the painting.
Han Xizai, the late Tang bon vivant, is a man of many talents who rose to the highest rank of the government. He gave up his life of luxury and became a wandering musician as a gesture to protest against a world of political chaos and decaying morality.
This painting revealed the gathering preceding the dissolution of his vast household of concubines and hangers on.
It's also a precious document on fashion, music, dance, and floral art of the Tang dynasty.
Lin Zhoumin, the stage designer and partner with Han-Tang Yuefu Ensemble, explains the choice of the site.
"The Forbidden City is where the authentic work of the Feast of Han Xizai is housed. Therefore, to stage the play in the Forbidden City is to bring it home."
When asked about his impression of the Forbidden City, Lin Zhoumin added,
"My first impression is grand. The Forbidden City is the supreme representative of the art of Chinese architecture. We try to look for peace in the grand space and we find the Hall of Imperial Supremacy the most tranquil. So it becomes the best site to stage the show."
As the night fell, the play started on the open ground in front of the Hall of Imperial Supremacy.
The guests and audiences were seated in the sleeping couch in the style of Tang dynasty specially designed for the play. they couldn't help but feel being invited to the party of Han Xizai in the ancient picture.
The play is composed of five parts: "The doze", "Flute without string", "Listening to music", Recess" and "Watching the dances".
Unlike other modern musicals, the Feast of Han Xizai does not flaunt the theme of 'multiplicity" with the use of technology or unconventional couplings of seemingly incongruous arts. The slow pace of the play gives audience time to appreciate the subtlety of movements and their interaction with the nankuan music.
There are a number of songs with lyrics taken from the poetry of Han Xizai and other contemporaries, who practiced the art of lyric writing and brought it to a height of artistic achievement almost rivaling that of Tang poetry.
The Feast is by far one of the most complete representations of nankuan music, making use of the seldom seen foot drum and five-piece clapper that are particular to this form of music.
A foreign audience expresses his appreciation to the music drama after the performance.
"I like very much the grace, the beauty, the rhythm and the fine character of every movement and of every musical gesture. And this is particularly delicate since in such a great place, everything which is so subtle and so fine is always in the threat of getting lost. But I find everything came in a very coherent way together. Therefore I'm very happy about what I saw."
As the night deepened, the feast came to a close. The Forbidden City fell into silence again. But the performance of the night would surely revive the vigor of the ancient palace.