The Imperial Bells of China is all at once a vivid display of colour and sound and a glimpse into a revived culture right before your eyes, and I’m not sure which part I enjoyed more!
Narrated in Chinese, the staging offers English subtitles so we can follow the tale. We are introduced to State Chu, of the Zhou Dynasty, which experienced rapid expansion and growth whilst still being able to draw upon indigenous elements of its land to develop a distinct and influential culture. This culture become of integral importance to the Chinese culture that exists today.
Discoveries of the ancient cultural uncovered several musical instruments, including bronze and stone chime-bells, and it is these instruments that we are able to listen to here on stage. The sound made by the Bianzhong (bronze bell) is beautifully imposing.
The performance intertwines displays of these magnificent instruments amongst traditional song and dance inspired by Chu. There is an impeccable rhythm upheld by all, and amongst the magnificent costumes and elaborate set designs of tapestries and colours you really begin to feel a sense of awe. Perhaps my favourite piece was the “Melody of Chu: The Concert of the Eight Tones” which brought together all these vivid sounds to a resounding symphony. Each instrument represents one of the eight sounds, metal, stone, silk, bamboo, gourd, earth, hide and wood. The Xun (a porcelain instrument) provided a particularly unique sound full of emotion.
There is also much to be admired of the dancers, with pieces such as “Mountain Hunt” and “Military Exercise” showing off the athleticism of the men and a beautiful “Collecting of Mulberry Leaves” showing the graceful strength of the women.
Of course the real wow moment comes at the very end, at the “Great Royal Banquet Ceremony”. Here all return to the stage in an explosion of everything we had witnessed. We are also introduced to the dance of the long sleeves, silken sleeves that extend in meters of fabric. The lead dancers throw the sleeves to the side to create an explosion of light fabric and bright colours, they then elegantly swing and snap their arms to return the material before throwing it again in graceful arcs. It’s a sight to behold, and distinctly manages to epitomize the prosperity and affluence of the ancient Chu society to this modern audience these many years later.
Witness the beauty of an ancient culture at The Imperial Bells of China, touring Sydney, Canberra and Melbourne. The next performances will be at Canberra’s Canberra Theatre Playhouse. For more information and tour dates visit www.theimperialbells.com.au
The reviewer attended Opening Night on the 25th May.