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Thứ Ba, tháng 10 24, 2006

No. 1196

A Show of Zen
(China Daily October 23, 2006)

The audience was sitting on the mat-like hassocks that monks use for meditation. The crowd was dazzled by shining stars and a moon in the sky actually made of small electronic lights. They delighted in the special stunt work, such as swordplay in the treetops and creative kung fu.

In the distance stood a temple specially constructed for the show, in which monks could be seen doing their daily duties. Nearer was a bridge where most of the show's plots unfolded. Closest to the audience were five monks who sat meditating throughout the show.

The show, entitled "Zen Shaolin," was staged as a pilot on October 16 in the Daixiangou Valley of the Songshan Mountain, 7 kilometres from the Shaolin Temple in Central China's Henan Province. There, the audience can appreciate the performance set against the background of mountains, trees and stars.

Shaolin Temple, located in Dengfeng of Henan Province, is famous for its martial arts and attracts large amount of tourists. However, since the Shaolin Temple closes at 5 pm, few tourists stay in Dengfeng overnight, with most of them heading for Luoyang or Zhengzhou after their visit.

The show is part of an effort to get people to stick around after hours and to boost the local economy, said Mei Shuaiyuan, producer and script-writer of "Zen Shaolin." When the show opens in March 2007 near the Shaolin Temple, he expects a daily audience of 1,500 will attend, and many of them will stay in Dengfeng overnight.

Mei has reasons to be confident. The last show he produced, "Impression Liu Sanjie," which premiered in 2004 in Yangshuo of South China's Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region, attracts a daily audience of 2,500, Mei said.

Both "Impression Liu Sanjie" and "Zen Shaolin" are shows performed on original sites, and both sites are hot tourist attractions, but there is also a star-studded crew to entice audiences.

"Impression Liu Sanjie" is directed by famous director Zhang Yimou, while "Zen Shaolin" features Tan Dun, who is not only the composer of the show's music, but also the artistic director of the entire performance.

"Zen Shaolin" also features other established artists such as choreographer Huang Doudou who is also a pop dancer, set designer Zeng Li and lighting designer Yi Liming.

"If scenes of 'Impression Liu Sanjie' can be compared to a widescreen, then scenes of 'Zen Shaolin' are like the vertical scrolls of Chinese painting," Mei said.

It was in Shaolin Temple that the 28th patriarch of the Buddhist Bodhidharma founded the Zen school of Buddhism in the 6th century. It is said that Bodhidharma meditated for nine years in Shaolin Temple, and he used to practise martial arts to ensure his health for meditation.

"Zen and martial arts are two important features of the Shaolin Temple, but most people know much less about Zen than about martial arts," said Shi Yongxin, abbot of Shaolin Temple and cultural consultant of "Zen Shaolin."

"Zen is a kind of creativity and wisdom and it is very beneficial to the people who learn it."

As an artist, Tan has a different explanation of Zen.

"Zen is something hard to explain. It's like when you are not sure whether a person loves you or not, when you don't know how to speak about it and you'd rather not speak about it," Tan said. "Probably, Zen is something that can be better explained through music, lighting and movements rather than verbal language."

In the five scenes of "Zen Shaolin" "Water Music," "Wood Music," "Wind Music," "Lighting Music" and "Stone Music" Tan tries to integrate music with natural elements to create something he calls "organic music."

He also adopts pieces of traditional music Buddhist and secular including the Buddhist chant "Incantation of Great Mercy" (Da Bei Zhou) and Henan's local music "Hua Liushui," which is said to be the origin of the classical Chinese musical work "High Mountain, Flowing Water" (Gaoshan Liushui).

Tan explained that Zen was not a solely Buddhist doctrine in China, but rather, was always interrelated with other elements of Chinese culture.

The show of "Zen Shaolin" covers an area of 3 square kilometres, and the highest point of the performance is at an altitude of about 1,400 metres above sea level.

"In this natural environment, our ideas often come from the weather, wind and natural sounds," said choreographer Huang. "I experienced many things for the first time while choreographing for the show."

The show runs for 70 minutes long and involves some 600 actors, most of whom are students from martial arts schools in Dengfeng. After March 2007, it will be performed nightly except for a hiatus spanning the chilly months from November to February. If it rains, organizers will provide raincoats for the audience.

"I hope 'Zen Shaolin' will be a successful project and contribute to the local economy," said Shi Yongxin.

How much the show will contribute to the local economy will only be known after March, but the project has already involved a great amount of local labour. Mei said one-fourth of the actors were farmers from the four nearby villagers.

The staff of "Zen Shaolin" are still revising the work, while Mei is already preparing for two new shows on original sites, one in Dujiangyan in Southwest China's Sichuan Province and the other in Halong Bay of Viet Nam.

In addition to "Impression Liu Sanjie," Mei is anticipating four of his works will be performed daily in different places in the future.

He is also planning to build a temple-style hotel near the Shaolin Temple, where audiences of "Zen Shaolin" can stay and practise Zen meditation.

According to Mei, 80 million yuan (US$9.86 million) has been invested in "Zen Shaolin," and his plan to create a tourist area, which will include the performance and hotel, will cost a total of 350 million yuan (US$43 million).