Soul of China in the heart of America

By Zhang Yuwei/Chen Jia
China Daily 01-30-2009

NEW YORK: The evening temperatures were freezing but the performances were electrifying.

For the past two weeks, Americans have been getting a rare treat on Broadway: an action-packed martial arts performance from China, Soul of Shaolin.

"Ticket sales have exceeded our expectations," Don Frantz, general manager of the show, said Thursday. The first Chinese show on Broadway, from Jan 15 to 31, is even more popular among the city's Asian community.

Soul of Shaolin has a cast of 33 young martial artists, and tells the story of Hui Guang. The protagonist is separated from his mother because of war when he is still a baby. He is found by Monk Naluo and taken to Shaolin Temple, where he trains to become an accomplished kungfu master.

The Marquis Theatre, which seats more than 1,600 people, was almost full to capacity on the opening day, with the audience giving the performers a long applause.

"You could never imagine to see such a performance on Broadway. It's just amazing," said Gerd Breckling, a cameraman with a German TV channel. He became interested in the show because he had seen part of it during the 2008 Beijing Olympic Games.

"It's beautiful! I would rate it 9 out of 10." He said he kept fixing his binoculars almost throughout the show to capture every single movement of the artists.

The 100-minute-show is divided into six scenes. Apart from the less than 5-minute of English narration, the show is full of kungfu performances interspersed by ballet and music.

"I understood the story perfectly, and I enjoyed the actors' movements a lot," said Christina Clarry, history student in a college. "It's spectacular!"

The show attracted not only kungfu fans but also people interested in Chinese culture. Some members of the audience were particularly interested in the actors' costumes. For instance, many people asked Bai Guojun, who plays an abbot, if his white long beard was real.

"It was interesting," said Kevin Holden, a university professor who knows a little about Chinese literature but nothing about kungfu.

"My friend got me a ticket ... he wanted to give me a surprise of watching a live kungfu show," he said.

Yu Fei, who plays Hui Guang, was almost mobbed by the audience after the show - everyone eager to take photographs with him or get his autograph.

"It means a lot to us ... performing on Broadway, which offered a great platform to us to spread Chinese culture and Shaolin kungfu," said Yu, who has been practicing martial arts for eight years.

"I didn't expect the Broadway audience to like it this much."

The tricks the kungfu artists performed with sticks, bowls and bricks wowed the audience the most. For many of them, watching such a show was like "seeing a Bruce Lee movie being filmed in one take".

The show has received widespread acclaim, with the array of interviews with the media keeping them busy even off stage.

Soul of Shaolin was featured in CBS2 News morning show on Jan 17, where the main actors were invited to showcase their kungfu skills.

The performance is the first of shows that will hit Broadway every January with the aim of spreading knowledge about Chinese culture.

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