The Tang Dynasty Music and Dance Show, a wonderful performance of the ancient music and dance, is a must when you visit Xian. The city, which was formerly known as Chang'an has a very long history, and was the imperial capital during 13 dynastic periods. Of these, the Tang Dynasty (618 - 907) was the most prosperous and glorious of all. The Tang Dynasty Music and Dance Show is an outstanding exponent of this ancient stable and prosperous society, keeping alive its splendid culture and providing an insight into the peaceful life style of the period.
As an art form, the show has its roots in folk fetes, when dances were first performed by people as part of rituals of prayer for a good harvest or a better life. Over thousands of years, the dances developed from a few simple postures or gestures to become delicate and artistic reaching a peak during the Tang Dynasty.
Unlike some other regimes, the Tang was open to outside influences and was willing to take in the best of various art forms of not only the past dynasties but also the ethnic groups in the northwestern China as well as central and western Asia. Thus a wide range of unusual oriental musical instruments, many techniques such as painting, sculpting, pattern and costume design, cuisine and dining etiquette, singing and dancing was accepted by the Chinese, paving the way for the kind of entertainment that is now the Tang Dynasty Music and Dance Show. By combining poetry with the skilled playing of musical instruments, singing, dancing and also stunning costumes, the modern presentation is certain to give you an impressive view of ancient China including its splendid history, brilliant arts, distinct traditions and customs.
The Creation of the Modern Tang Dynasty Music and Dance Show
The show presented today is a recreation of a traditional entertainment attributable to a great variety of historical records and relics.
In order to embody the characteristics of the music and the dance of Tang accurately, the artists spent much time reading the relevant books, historical records and monographs on the entertainments enjoyed by the royal court. They also set about learning traditional arts from folk artists and consulted experts on certain issues. With the written materials as a basis, they then visited many historical sites such as Dunhuang, Yungang and Longmen as these were a great source of contemporary visual information due to the presence of frescoes, carvings and sculptures.
Over a year was spent on preparation and using a visualization of the imperial court as its setting, the production was an integration of a series of successive programs of music, singing and dancing, manifesting a unique classical style and features typical of Xian. The specific work of composing and choreographing had been started in June of 1982 and through the joint efforts of many artists, the debut of the Tang Dynasty Music and Dance Show on October 1st in that year proved to be a great success and was highly praised by a delegation from UNESCO.
The Tang Dynasty Music and Dance Show has now become a classic entertainment that has been warmly appreciated by audiences running into hundreds of thousands for more than twenty years. The production has toured many cities in China as well as numerous foreign countries such as Japan, Russia, Korea, Singapore, Norway, Denmark, etc.
Classical Programs of the Tang Dynasty Music and Dance Show
During the twenty or more years since its inauguration, the show has devised a series of items that are an integral part of the program. These are mainly of three forms - instrumental music, songs and dances. The following notes give details of some of the most excellent and representative.
The Melody of Longevity of the Emperor
This is an instrumental ensemble depicting the magnificent scene of the emperor holding court. The playing of various traditional Chinese instruments, especially the drums and the serial bells, help to bring to life the spectacle of hundreds of thousands of officials at various levels paying homage to the emperor, reflecting the affluence and strength of the great Tang Empire.
White Ramie Cloth Costume Dance
This was a folk dance originating in the Western Jin Dynasty (265 - 316). It became popular during the Tang Dynasty in which the dancers wore costumes made from white ramie cloth. Each costume has very long sleeves that are waved by the dancers as they make their graceful movements. The white ramie cloth is a soft and smooth fabric invented in the Qin Dynasty (221 - 206 B.C.) and the dance is to demonstrate its fine texture.
Da Nuo Dance
The Da Nuo Dance is a kind of wizard's dance that is said to have been created by Huangdi, the ancestor of the Chinese nation. Reference to certain records shows that it has a history dating back as far as the Zhou Dynasty over 2,000 years ago. This dance was first performed for good luck and to dispel evil spirits and plagues. Later, during the Tang Dynasty, it had already become a grand ceremony in Chang'an during the last lunar month. All of the dancers wear masks, dancing to mysterious classical music.
Rainbow Skirt and the Feathered Coat Dance
This dance is known as the most brilliant exponent of the song and the dance of the Tang Dynasty. It is said to be choreographed by Yang Yuhuan, one of the four most beautiful women in ancient China and the favorite concubine of Emperor Xuanzong, the seventh emperor of the Tang Dynasty. Xuanzong was inspired by a dream about a dancing fairy that was wearing a rainbow skirt and a feathered coat, and he composed a melody. Yang Yuhuan then created a dance according to the Emperor's dream and melody. By performing the dance for Xuanzong she won his favor.
Battling Dance of the King of Qin
This dance was usually performed by the soldiers to celebrate their triumph upon their return from the battlefield. It is said to be created by Emperor Taizong, who was the second emperor of the Tang Dynasty and titled the 'King of Qin' before his enthronement. Taizong used this dance to show off the empire's powerful military strength.
Ta Ge Dance
Ta Ge Dance is a traditional dance performed by a group of many people. It endured for a long time and prevailed in the Tang Dynasty. On a festive day in mid-autumn, people gathered to sing and dance at the foot of Mt. Lishan where the Tang court had come to celebrate the harvest and worship the emperor. Today's Ta Ge Dance, with its magnificent scenery and cheerful music, is designed to display the harmonious and prosperous society of the Tang era.
Besides these classical programs, artists have also designed new performances. There are many tourist enterprises showing their own distinctive Tang Song and Dance performances. In the face of fierce competition, the Shaanxi Provincial Song & Dance Troupe displays bold innovation and a series of new programs for the Tang Dynasty Music and Dance Show performed by the artists from that troupe have been highly regarded by the public. Among the various newly-designed programs, one of the most outstanding and successful in the recent years has been the Song of Unending Sorrow.
The Song of Unending Sorrow
It is adapted from the famous poem written by Bai Juyi, an eminent poet of the Tang Dynasty. The tragic love story of Emperor Xuanzong and his favorite concubine Yang Yuhuan narrated in this poem is familiar to Chinese people. Shaanxi Provincial Song & Dance Troupe adapted the story and turned it into a performance combining acting, singing and dancing. Being first staged in the summer of 2006 at the Huaqing Palace, the very scene of the original story at Mt. Lishan, the performance of the Song of Unending Sorrow attracts hundreds of thousands of tourists. Such a large-scale program, with the assistance of the modern technology of colorful lights, acoustics, etc., is an ingenious combination of the cultural heritage and the natural beauty.