Show leaves lasting impression

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 19 July, 2011, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 19 July, 2011, 12:00am


Wandering around the temples and gardens of Hangzhou's West Lake, you might feel there is a lack of spectacle. The layout and beauty of the lake and its gardens aren't meant to be gawked at, they are designed for refined enjoyment and reflection.

Thank the visionaries of the city and director Zhang Yimou for providing a marvellous nightly musical spectacle on water, Impressions West Lake. It is a visual stunner which makes for a great travel story to tell friends.

The musical is loosely based on a snake demon that falls in love with a human, but it's not the story that matters, it's the telling. The performance takes place on a stage built several inches below the surface of the lake. Words and scenes are projected on to the lake's surface, as acrobats, dancers and singers run, flip and twirl across the stage as fantasy-realm music echoes over the scene.

Impressions is one of a three-part series by the director: the others are in Lijiang and Guilin. Both, like Hangzhou, are popular tourist destinations. As with most of Zhang's work, Impressions is low on plot and heavy on spectacle. The Hangzhou performance is a jaw-dropper solely due to its location and set-up.

The surface of the lake shimmers throughout the hour-long performance and lights set in the trees and the Temple of Yue Fei across the way blaze orange, green and bright white. The performers are dancing groups covered in feathers and demons doing backflips atop a thin sheen of water.

If you are lucky enough to have the moon out during a performance, it is easy to suspend belief and imagine a wandering band of magicians and fairies showing up just to dance in the moonlight.

There are two shows every night and tickets range from 460 yuan (HK$554) to 1,800 yuan. VIP seats have a private balcony while tickets for two boats, a water platform and all lakeside seats are less than 500 yuan. Patrons can get a taxi from the city centre to the performance area for about 50 yuan, or take one of the numerous public buses that make the trip from the city to Yue Fei Temple Station.