The Journey of a Legendary Landscape Painting has become one of the most successful dance dramas in the country since its premiere at the National Center for the Performing Arts in Beijing on Aug 21 last year.
With more than 100 sold-out performances across the country, the production, choreographed by Zhou Liya and Han Zhen, brings the classic painting, A Panorama of Rivers and Mountains, by Song Dynasty (960-1279) artist Wang Ximeng, to life.
A Panorama of Rivers and Mountains, which is housed at the Palace Museum in Beijing, is widely acknowledged as one of the most important works in the history of Chinese fine art.
Music pieces from the associated dance drama have won a large fan base, which inspired the musicians from the China Oriental Performing Arts Group, the Beijing-based company which produced the dance drama, to develop a new concert, Sound of the Journey of a Legendary Landscape Painting.
On Aug 5, the company announced that it would be working with Taihe Music, a Beijing-based music and performance company, to stage 216 concerts across the country over the next two years. The premiere is scheduled to take place this fall.
"The idea of the concert came from the warm feedback of the audiences who came to watch Poetic Dance: The Journey of a Legendary Landscape Painting. We've seen their passion for the dance production, especially their interest in the music featured in the show," says Jing Xiaoyong, head of the China Oriental Performing Arts Group, adding that the dance drama was showcased during this year's CCTV Spring Festival Gala, the most-watched TV show in the country, which widened its fan base.
The company's history dates back to the 1950s and thanks to Poetic Dance: The Journey of a Legendary Landscape Painting, it has gained wide popularity among young Chinese audiences. Many amateur dancers and fans of the show have emulated the choreography from the production and shared videos on social media.
On the back of this success, a vinyl record featuring music from the dance drama was released by the company.
Like the 11-meter-long scroll painting, which was completed by Wang when he was just 18 years old, the music at the concert will depict people's lives and attempt to present the scenery of that time, from mountains and rivers to temples and pavilions.
Ancient Chinese musical instruments, such as bianzhong (chime bells), konghou (Chinese harp) and xun (a globular, vessel flute), will be featured in the concert, taking audiences back to ancient China. They will be blended with Western musical instruments, such as trumpet and saxophone, through creative musical arrangement.
"The dance drama and music, like traditional Chinese paintings, are abstract, leaving audiences enough space to imagine by themselves," says Li Bingchuan, director of the concert. "Unlike the dance drama, which mainly reflects and stays loyal to the painting, the concert will provide music that further explores the country's beautiful natural scenery, traditional Chinese culture and the spirit of Chinese people."
On Aug 5, Li, along with 20 musicians from the China Oriental Performing Arts Group, performed two pieces that will be featured in the concert. One depicts the beautiful Poyang Lake, which lies on the south bank of Yangtze River in the north of Jiangxi province, and the other is adapted from the classic Chinese musical work, Three Stanzas of Plum Blossoms, which will be played by bianzhong performers.
"There will be solo performances of different traditional Chinese musical instruments. The audience will be amazed by the musicians' techniques and the beautiful sound they produce," says Li. "We've been looking for ways to connect ancient Chinese music with contemporary audiences. The concert will be a great opportunity to achieve that goal."
Lyu Liang, composer of Poetic Dance: The Journey of a Legendary Landscape Painting, is working with his teacher, composer Meng Ke, on music for the concert.
The main musical instrument employed in the dance drama is guqin (a plucked, seven-stringed instrument). For the new concert, the composers focused on showcasing the versatility of various traditional Chinese musical instruments, such as pipa (a four-stringed lute), guzheng (Chinese zither), Chinese drum and sheng (a type of wind instrument).
"We basically got inspired by musical works from the Song Dynasty when we created pieces for the dance drama. For the concert, those musical elements will appear more," says Lyu, who learned to play suona (a double-reed horn), bamboo flute and sheng as a child and studied music at an art school in Liaoning province.
In 2002, he came to Beijing to study at the Central Conservatory of Music, majoring in traditional Chinese music. He attributes his success to his teacher Meng, a composer with the China Oriental Performing Arts Group, who is known for writing the soundtracks to popular TV series, such as 2015's Nirvana in Fire and The Disguiser.