IN the cultural and scholarly city of Wuhan, a new national theatre – the “Han Show” – is taking shape, destined to become China’s equivalent to Russia’s Bolshoi.
The live performance is a celebration of dance, stage and costume design, gymnastics, drama and music all rolled into one new form.
It is so spectacular it befits a royal command performance. And sure enough, it became the centerpiece of Belgian King Philippe and Queen Mathilde’s visit to Wuhan in mid-2015.
The man behind Han Show, tycoon Wang Jianlin, deemed China’s richest man personally welcomed the couple. Wang is also chairman of Wanda Dalian Group.
The Han Show is directed by Italian-Belgian maestro Franco Dragone, the prime creator of Han Show. The royals were reportedly bowled over by the use of advanced water and movable giant stage technology. It was for them, a “fantastic art vision,” said the Press.
What the royals feasted upon may soon be shared with the rest of the world. China’s ascendancy in economics front will certainly be matched by its cultural prowess as well.
While it is true the older Peking Opera has wowed audiences, a more vibrant contemporary approach is now needed.
Han Show demonstrates the next level of Chinese artistic supremacy.
For the Chinese theatre to remain relevant in the 21st Century, it needs to evolve with stronger content and reach wider audiences.
It must also be able to break through national barriers to be accepted and recognized by people everywhere.
After all, China does see itself as the next superpower.
When I saw the Han Show a little before the Belgian Royals, it struck me like a thunderbolt.
The first thing that shot through my mind was: Call it the “Greatest Show on Earth.”
Previously, that title belonged to Ringling Brothers-Barnum & Bailey’s Circus.
That billing now belongs to Han Show as it stuns crowd with its army of acrobats, high divers and dancers. The performers are a mix of Chinese and international athletic stars.
The showmanship is nothing short of breathtaking as the performers make simultaneous dives from more than 10 meters in the air to the pool of water below. The 80-minute performance is magnificent, daring and beautiful.
And yet, in all its grandeur, the organizers say it is still a “work in progress.”
To be sure, Han Show has not yet reached its “full potential.” It is evolving further as we speak with its roots coming from celebrated shows like “O” and “House of Dancing Water,” both Dragon sensations.
But “Han Show’ is more compelling and ambitious. Imagine what film and music mediums can do if ever the forms could be merged?
So it came as no big surprise when Wang last year invested US$1 billion (35 billion baht) with Viacom, Paramount Pictures to make movies.
Wang has not been shy about his intentions to build an entertainment empire.
He expects his real estate and entertainment conglomerate to close two film-related deals valued at several billions this year.
Moreover, he wants to own a studio and he’s not just interested in Paramount Pictures.
Wanda has had an eye on a 49% stake in Paramount with talks between it and Viacom taking place last month.
“We are interested not only in Paramount, but all of them [other studios]. If one of the Big Six would be willing to be sold to us, we would be interested,” he said.
All this global investment goes back to Wuhan, the cradle upon which Wang’s original content is being nurtured and tested.
Like Broadway and Vaudeville, it is from stage where much of the content will spring from.
Where else can ideas, scripts and artistic talent be experimented if not for such cradles of theatre?
It is not easy to appreciate the boldness of Wang’s project unless one sees the Han Show itself. For now, it is the Mainland’s best-kept secret.
No other place is showing it. You need to be physically in Wuhan to buy a ticket costing about 500 yuan (2,500 baht) to get in.
There are no commercials and once it begins, no one will dare leave their seat for the washroom or anywhere.
Publicity is kept at a minimal, No photos allowed for valid reasons. In a world of copycats and piracy, Han Show needs to worry about protecting its intellectual property.
Even so, it is extremely tough to duplicate. To imitate it, one has to throw millions of dollars to employ an army of artists of the first degree even before a stage can be built.
For now, Wang’s US acquisitions are taking center stage.
He has acquired land at 9900 Wilshire Boulevard in Beverly Hills, California, to build the American headquarters of his entertainment company.
Wanda owns 9 million square meters of investment property, 58 shopping plazas, 15 luxury hotels, 68 cinemas, 57 department stores and 54 karaoke centers in China.
It became the world’s largest theatre owner in 2012 when Wang acquired AMC Theatres. He bought out US-based AMC Entertainment for $2.6 billion.
Wang listed it on the New York Stock Exchange and also flew in Leonardo DiCaprio, Kate Beckinsale and John Travolta to launch his $8-billion mini-Hollywood in Qingdao in 2013.
Top: A mix of Chinese and foreign world-class dancers are employed by the Han Show for its spectacular choreographed sequences.
First inset: Han Show owner and China’s richest man Wang Jialin greets the Belgian Royal couple during their visit to the show in June, 2015.
Second inset: Han Show uses the latest giant stage technology for its stunning use of acrobats, dance and music for the 80-minute extravaganza.
Below: The theatre is the most advanced technological set where entire rows of seats can be moved amid a large pool of water.
By Cimi Suchontan