Enter 'Wing Chun': where dance meets wuxia

Writer: Debra Li  |  Editor: Zhang Chanwen  |  From: Shenzhen Daily  |  Updated: 2022-11-09

While plenty of Chinese movies and TV shows have explored the life and inner world of Ip Man, a kung fu master born in Nanhai, Guangdong Province, more than a century ago, the upcoming “Wing Chun” dance show approaches its subject in a completely new and bold way.

Director Han Zhen at the media briefing in Shenzhen on Friday. Han Mo

The dance show directed by Han Zhen and Zhou Liya will premiere at Shenzhen Poly Theater on Dec. 22, and launch a national tour with legs in over 30 cities after wrapping up its debut in Shenzhen on Christmas Day.

Director Zhou Liya at the media briefing in Shenzhen on Friday. Han Mo 

Han and Zhou, who previously directed such hit dance shows as “The Eternal Wave” and “Only Green,” said they had long wanted to do a show themed on Chinese martial arts.

“Like many Chinese growing up in the 1980s, I have cherished some sort of wuxia dream, in which I could travel far and wide with a sword, help the underdogs fight the evil and right their wrongs,” Han told a media briefing Friday afternoon.

The instructor of Bruce Lee, Ip learned Wing Chun as a child because his parents wanted him to be physically strong. Wing Chun, a style of kung fu, emphasizes close quarters combat, quick punches and tight defense to overcome one’s opponents. Believed to have originated in Southwest China, it has thrived in South China, particularly Fujian and Guangdong provinces.

After migrating to Hong Kong in 1950, Ip began to take in disciples and teach them Wing Chun.

Unlike the legendary characters of Jin Yong’s martial arts fiction (think of “Condor Heroes”) who often hail from ancient times, have mastered superb skills as if by fate and are involved in glorious undertakings, Ip was real, tangible and more or less a member of the common folk.

Feng Shuangbai, Chairman of the Chinese Dancers Association who penned the script for the show, said he hopes the audience will be touched and inspired by Ip’s story, because everyone can chase their own dreams and be their own hero as long as they are willing to give it a try.

Chang Hongji and Zhang Yashu (R) perform a snippet of dance show “Wing Chun” at a media briefing at Shenzhen Poly Theater on Friday. Photos courtesy of the show organizers except otherwise stated 

Chang Hongji, leading dancer of the Shenzhen Opera and Dance Theater (SZODT), will play the role of Ip, and his colleague Xu Tianhui will act as Ip’s wife Cheung Wing Sing. Two other top SZODT dancers Zhang Yashu and Feng Haoran will also lead in the show, acting as young people who live in a different time and space (possibly modern times) and somehow miraculously travel back to meet the master and get involved in his life.

Refusing to give more spoilers of the show, Han said it’s a tough job to present the story in the form of dance. “In ‘The Eternal Wave,’ we tell a story that happens simultaneously at various venues, and in ‘Only Green,’ the story takes place back and forth in time. The new show has more dimensions, as we combine staggered time frames and various venues,” she explained.

Dancers Chang Hongji (R) and Feng Haoran perform Wing Chun moves at the media briefing. Han Mo

Some 40 dancers, some in multiple roles, will appear in different scenes, making it a stunning experience for the audience to appreciate the beautiful dance moves and at the same time try to unravel a story told with ingenuity.

Zhou couldn’t help praising the hardworking dancers. “We are 100 days into the rehearsal and they are totally identifying with their roles,” she said.

At the news briefing, Chang performed a snippet of the show, wowing all who were present with his crisp, elegant moves that are highly demanding even to the layman’s eyes. “We hire martial arts instructors to train our dancers; some trained so hard that they complained that the muscles in their thighs felt like bursting,” Zhou said. “But then, after taking a 3-minute break, they are back training again.”

“It’s a coincidence that the first successful collaboration between Zhou and me was themed on Cantonese culture and commissioned by the Guangdong Opera and Dance Drama Theater,” Han recalled. “Dragon Boat Racing,” which premiered in Guangzhou in October 2014, won a Wenhua Award handed out by the Ministry of Culture in 2016.

“So it’s only natural that we feature a lot of Cantonese cultural elements in the new show; take for example the use of gambiered Canton gauze as material for the costumes,” Han explained.

Young musician Yang Fan who provided the scores, stage designer Hu Yanjun, lighting designer Ren Dongsheng, costumes designer Yang Donglin, and multimedia designer Tan Yingjie are all top talents in their respective fields in China.

Calligrapher Xu Jing wrote the Chinese characters for “Wing Chun” to be projected on the backdrop at the beginning of the show.

Zeng Xianglai, chief of the Culture, Radio, Television, Tourism and Sports Bureau of Shenzhen Municipality which co-produces the show, said the show is meant to promote traditional Cantonese culture and pay tribute to the common folk who work hard, uphold justice and dream big.

Beijing Poly Theater Management Co. Ltd., which manages the national tour, has arranged for more than 80 performances in cities including Beijing, Shanghai and Guangzhou. Stay tuned with Shenzhen Poly Theater’s WeChat account “SZpolytheatre” for ticketing information.

Venue: Shenzhen Poly Theater, Nanshan District (深圳保利剧院)

Metro: Line 2 or 11 to Houhai Station (后海站), Exit E