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New show set to bring legendary guqin piece to life

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Guanglingsan is one of the most important pieces in Chinese music history for guqin, a plucked seven-string Chinese instrument from the zither family with a history of more than 3,000 years. It is closely related to Ji Kang, a celebrated Chinese scholar, musician and poet from the Western Jin Dynasty (265-316).

Ji was known as one of the Seven Sages of the Bamboo Grove, a group of Chinese scholars, writers and musicians of the Wei (220-265) and Jin (265-420) dynasties.

When he turned 40, Ji refused to work as an official for the court and was framed and sentenced to death.

Before his execution, Ji played Guanglingsan and since then, the piece has become legendary and it is said that the piece died with Ji since no one could play it as well as him.

The story of Ji and the Seven Sages of the Bamboo Grove has been adapted into a drama, titled Guanglingsan, by veteran theater producer and scriptwriter Xu Ying.

On Dec 21, the drama will premiere at Beijing's Capital Theater, and run for tow more days.

About five years ago, Xu initiated the idea of turning the story of Ji and the Seven Sages of the Bamboo Grove into an opera by collaborating with the National Center for the Performing Arts. However, NCPA commissioned Xu to write another opera instead, which was based on Chinese writer Lao She's famous work, Rickshaw Boy.

The opera, also titled Rickshaw Boy, was successful but Xu did not give up his idea of telling the story of Ji and the Seven Sages of the Bamboo Grove.

Earlier this year, Xu fulfilled his idea of producing the drama, which he says "is a much more suitable way to tell the story".

"The reason why I am so fascinated with the story is because it's a Chinese story and is rarely told onstage," says Xu.

"Those great scholars, musicians and poets, like Ji, represent traditional Chinese culture." Also, instead of inviting drama actors, Xu had Peking Opera artists onstage, including Li Jian, a veteran Peking Opera actor, who teaches at the middle school affiliated to the National Academy of Chinese Theater Arts; Jiang Yishan, an actress from the Peking Opera Theater Company of Beijing; and Liu Dake, an actor from the National Peking Opera Company.

Xu says the show is an experiment of combing these two art forms.

"Peking Opera has about 200 years of history, which enables the art form to be complete and sophisticated. But Chinese theater turns only 110 this year. So, comparing it with Peking Opera is not fair," says Xu.

"But by bringing these two art forms together, we can explore the potential of Chinese theater."

Speaking about the challenges for the performers, he says: "The actors have to change their usual way of singing and speaking as Peking Opera artists. They have to put their acting experience aside for this drama, which is not easy."

Meanwhile, Xu invited Chinese composer Guo Wenjing to write music for the drama.

For the show, Guo, who also composed for the NCPA opera, Rickshaw Boy, uses a live band onstage featuring traditional Chinese instruments, like the suona, zhong ruan and guqin.

"To me, Guanglingsan is more than a piece of music. It's about the spirit, which embodies traditional Chinese culture. From my score, music is visualized. You can see the tragedy of Ji, and the open-minded and unrestrained spirit of the Seven Sages of the Bamboo Grove," says Guo.

China Daily


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