Nightly feasts of sights and sounds for visitors looking for thrills

By Raymond Zhou and Shi Xiaofeng ( China Daily ) Updated: 2016-09-05 08:08:55

Nightly feasts of sights and sounds for visitors looking for thrills

Night of West Lake is a famous indoor show in Hangzhou, as equally famous as Impression West Lake and Romance of the Song Dynasty. [Photo provided to China Daily]

A night on the town in Hangzhou presents a rich array of options. You can go partying at one of the trendy clubs or you can savor a moment of Zen tranquility at one of the traditionally deco-rated teahouses. The easiest choice, though, is to act like a typical tourist and take in one of the long-running shows that combine Las Vegas-style glitz with local legends and folklore.

Night of West Lake is staged at the centrally located Dongpo Theater, which is a few minutes' walk from the lake.

Dongpo, also known as Su Shi, the Song Dynasty (960-1279) poet and one-time Hangzhou governor, does not make an appearance in the revue.

But other notables such as Yue Fei, Madame White Snake and the Butterfly Lovers grace the stage, as expected. You don't need to read up on history to understand what's happening on stage if locals have been eagerly recounting the stories since you first arrived in the city.

This Gold Coast production has been serving 400,000 viewers annually since it opened in 2005.

The company is preparing another show more in the style of the Vegas O Show by Cirque du Soleil, targeting a different clientele, at West Lake Cultural Square.

Romance of the Song Dynasty, which originated 20 years ago from an open-air performance, has been wowing capacity audiences to the tune of 7 million spectators a year, with two large venues side by side in the Songcheng theme park.

At its busiest, it runs a whopping 15 shows a day.

In terms of content, the show treads the same ground as Night of West Lake, with the epic battles by the Yue warriors as well as the two star-crossed couples. But the same script has spawned different treatments and Romance seems to have more high-tech pizzazz.

For example, the rain on stage is atmospherically mirrored by a mist in the audience-moist enough to feel but not too wet to cause discomfort.

A ticket for the show includes a tour of the park, which is quite compressed by Chinese standards but offers a wealth of family entertainment.

Meanwhile, besides a second park in Hangzhou, across the Qiantang River, Songcheng has in recent years expanded to other tourist cities like Sanya in Hainan province, Lijiang in Yunnan province and Jiuzhaigou in Sichuan province, with similar one-hour extravaganzas, but with local stories.

Separately, famed film director Zhang Yimou was hired to produce a local edition of his "Impression" series of open-air spectacles, which have been running since 2007.

Being an open-air show, it is subject to the vagaries of Mother Nature, but the lake is part of the show.

And unlike the other two shows, it does away with the narrative elements, containing instead snippets from various tales, but mostly projecting a dreamy aura and an "impressionistic" tableau that defines the city as a favor-ite hangout for lovebirds, past and present.

If you saw the opening ceremony of the 2008 Beijing Olympics, you know what you are in for.

But Impression West Lake is "restrained" by Zhang's standards.

After all, the lake is the protagonist and, as the old Chinese saying goes: It doesn't matter if the makeup is heavy or not, she is simply a beauty beyond compare.


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