Amazing stage show combines best from the East and West

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 26 July, 2001, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 26 July, 2001, 12:00am

Given a choice, would you rather read the Chinese literary classic Journey To The West or watch a live dance performance with lots of colour, music and wit?

Our advice is that you should read the masterpiece at least once, but it will do you no harm in catching the re-run of Journey to the West - Monkey King Thrice Beats the Bony Ghost.

A highlight of this year's International Arts Carnival, the box-office hit staged by the Hong Kong Dance Company has been updated with different costumes, sets and new scenes.

But our Monkey King (played by Wu Kam-ming) is still as amazing as ever.

Other than having superior magical powers and martial art skills, he can also perform a series of 17 somersaults across the stage in one breath.

Apart from the main characters - Monk Tripitaka and his three disciples, the Monkey King, Zhu Bajie (the pig) and Monk Sand - there will also be 26 little monkeys, played by the young members of the Hong Kong Academy for Performing Arts (APA) Junior Dance Ensemble and Hong Kong Amateur Gymnastics Association.

All of them are six to eight years old and the youngest is four. But they are all bold little dancers with their trademark somersault.

'I like dancing because I can see a lot of people below the stage watching me. But my legs get very tired afterwards,' said eight-year-old dancer George Liu.

Victor Leo Smith, 11, said: 'I like this dance because it has good settings and the director is a very creative man. When I grow up I want to be just like him.' Both George and Victor are tap dancers from the APA. Wait a minute, tap dancers?

The Monkey King Thrice Beats the Bony Ghost is a combination of classical and Chinese dance steps, but also includes Chinese opera, circus acts, modern and tap dance and ballet. The music is also a thoughtful mix from the East and the West.

'Chinese dance is the backbone of the show, but it won't be totally Chinese,' said Hong Kong Dance Company artistic director Jiang Huaxuan, who is responsible for the drama's choreography and stage effects.

With the characters having set personalities, Jiang faced a challenge in coming up with natural dance steps and dramatic gestures. How can a monkey dance properly? But Jiang overcame the problem by basing the dance steps on each character. For example, Monkey King is speedy with a lot of movements in the air, while Zhu Bajie has simpler and heavier steps.

However, was it a burden to adapt a well-known novel into a brand new dance performance? For Jiang, it was sheer bliss.

'A well-known story has the advantage that we don't have to explain it to the audience. So we can be more creative with the costumes, the settings, and the dance itself and the audience can enjoy a truly dream-like phenomenon.'

The story is about how Monkey King saves his master from a demon called Bony Ghost on their way to retrieve Buddhist scriptures in the West.

Sally is a summer intern from the

Hong Kong Baptist University