Thursday, August 3, 2017

Xanadu: Dream City, a New Musical in China

Xanadu: Dream City - A New Musical about Kublai Kahn
“A fascinating and relevant story reflecting today's political, sociological and economic climate.”

Greetings from China, where I am working on a new musical!

The last time I was in China was for the Shanghai Expo2010, where a new musical was being created called The Promise.  We worked in Hohut, Inner Mongolia, for several weeks where I was choreographing on the local song and dance company, an unusual opportunity for a former American ballerina.  

Returning to China in 2017 was not like any other time. The flight was easy and quick. We landed and I felt rested and ready to work. Actually, there was some delays at the airport—but no matter. When I got to the artist complex, it was almost midnight. We were going have to wait until the morning, but the Director did knock on my door and welcome me. He was Tony Stimac, founder of Musical Theatre Works, among many other accomplishments. 

THE COURTYARD COMPOUND:  Creating on-site (Feb/March 2017)

The sign above my door.
I unpacked and fell into bed wanting to be ready for the next day, and it seemed that the moment I close my eyes I was surrounded by a cacophony of wildly loud barking dogs. No, it wasn’t a dream— they were right outside my room.  Really?  The noise in New York is one thing you expect and block out, but here in Beijing—a few rings from the center of the city, practically country—noise was unexpected. They didn’t stop the whole night, and around four in the morning they were joined by more music from cackling hens and roosters.

Ge Jian built this complex….with housing, rehearsal rooms, dinner areas, offices, our theater, scenic and costume shops, and a television studio. Horses were there for the show as well as a film documentary, which like our musical had Kublai Kahn as its subject. The howling dogs I learned were greyhounds for the film.We stayed on the complex that housed and fed the talent, and had an adjacent TV studio for the documentary which was being created at the same time.  

Though I came as a “choreographer,” the sign over my door said “Producer” (photo above)—a misleading title I have been trying to get away from for years.

On the courtyard grounds

Then I met my assistants and interpreters for the project (photo below). My interpreter spoke perfect English—a dancer and teacher/choreographer herself who had spent two years at NYU. She was sharp and talented, and wonderful in the assist. The other was Zhu, who I had requested from New York—my muse from the musical The Promise in 2010. He is one of the most extraordinary dancers I’ve ever seen, and now he was transitioning into choreography.  I was so excited and grateful that our producer Don Frantz (photo) found him— a needle in a haystack.

My assistants Zhu and Jai

Breakfast and the Big Eating Room for other meals
The Studio where we worked

Meeting the dancers was next, an Inner Mongolian song-and-dance company from Xilinhot (Z-eye-lynn-hott). Imagine that, heading into a new project with dancers I’ve never met—from a country where we don't speak the same language—to learn contemporary American choreography for musical theater, something they’ve never seen. This would have been an impossible (an uncomfortable) task for a creator who was less risk-taking then me.  It seemed to be a challenge, indeed.  Yet, I found it to be a wonderful collaborative experience that unfolded beautifully.

First day of rehearsal

Another moment from rehearsal day #1

I was particularly impressed with the male dancers who took part in a jumping competition outside our studio!

The Creative Process 

1. Solo dancer improvisation

2. Four dancers in opening number solos

3. Men stepping in opening number

4. Women stepping

5. The Opening Number (tech rehearsal)

6. “Paper Money” (tech rehearsal) 

7. “Heart as Big as Grasslands” (studio rehearsal) 

8. “Horsemen at Sea”  (tech rehearsal)

My assistants Zhu and Jai did terrific work. Here’s Zhu rehearsing the opening step of “Horsemen at Sea”:

And Jai with a ribbon dance sequence, teaching 4-8’s: 

More photos!
Kublai Kahn (Sundor)

Chabi (Jola)

Video rehearsal clip: A most amazing voice!

Props and Costumes

Building the goldola

Paper money costume

With Chinese Executive Producer Ge Jian (left) and New York Producer Don Frantz

With dancers and creative team

I got the best acupuncture on a day off!                                                                                                                                                                                  
Outside the hospital

With Dr. Wang

We even had a horse at the top of the show!

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