Edinburgh Fringe 2018
A dynamic multimedia production from the National Theatre of China, recreating the epic journey from east to west along the historic Silk Road. In a ground-breaking collaboration with French theatre makers, digital projection and an electronic soundtrack complement the evocative physical performance of a world-class cast of 16. Following the success of their 2017 Edinburgh Fringe production Luocha Land, this new production by celebrated choreographer Zhao Miao once again combines Chinese mythology with powerful visuals and contemporary physical theatre.
Edinburgh is a city of contrasts, of stone and sea, of innovation and history, four seasons in a single day. Grizzled and drizzled (on) fest-goers are no sooner donning their ponchos and anoraks as shoving them in backpacks as the sun creates rainbows over the Royal Mile and eager performers fill our hands with colorful hand bills in hopes of prompting new journeys to their venues. The National Theatre of China are no strangers to international excursions and have brought a large company of performers to the Fringe to present their own epic story of travel and trade in A Life On The Silk Road at ZOO Southside – a larger than life theatrical adventure through history, legend, music, and multimedia.
The tapestry upon which the story plays out is necessarily grand. A vast backdrop which also acts as a projection screen towers over a large expansive stage lit exquisitely from all sides as the beautifully costumed actors recount the travels and tribulations of Zhiang Qian, a Chinese diplomat and international envoy in the 2nd Century BCE, who is traveling east to west on routes which would eventually become the famed Silk Road. Like Zhiang Qian’s journey, this production is a huge undertaking and an impressive accomplishment. Working in collaboration with French designers the National Theatre of China create a unique and vibrant production which includes a majestic original soundscape, beautiful animations and video projections, mythology and mysticism, as well as mesmerizing dance, impressive physical theatre, and exquisite mask and puppetry including a fantastic red dragon and spooky phantasms, as well as a fully articulate young child. Zhao Miao’s hypnotic choreography stands out with the large ensemble seeming to move totally as one in a unison not often paralleled.
Life traveling on the Silk Road was certainly not easy. Thousands of miles of road across countries, mountains, rivers, and hostile territories. Zhiang Qian, originally sent by Emperor Wudi of the Han Dynasty to establish relations beyond the Chinese borders, fought with unwelcoming tribes, saw his family killed in a sandstorm, and was captured by nomads for ten years, as well as experienced every type of weather and natural disaster along the way. Snowstorms and snowdrifts, sandstorms and rainstorms are enchantingly depicted with silks of all colors and wonderful choreography on the part of the company, accompanied by atmospheric music and sound. Banners and flags become clouds, gusts of wind, water spouts and more as the performers create a host of characters as well as a multitude of assorted animals with their superlatively expressive bodies.
This is not your usual Fringe fair, indeed audience reviews have mentioned that perhaps this production would feel more at home in the Edinburgh Festival proper, and at eighty minutes requires a staunch commitment but it is every bit worth the sacrifice. You will not see a show like this very often at all. Some patrons had trouble with the total lack of spoken word but for this reviewer it brought a welcome focus to the extraordinary production values on stage and The National Theatre of China’s masterful movement-based storytelling. Chinese philosopher Lao Tzu once said “The journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.” Take a chance and take a step #IntoTheUnknown this EdFringe with ZOO Southside and The National Theatre of China. This is a trip you will not go on very often.