AFTER six years of world touring, “White Snake,” a multimedia drama adapted from Chinese mythology, is returning to the Shanghai stage.
The show was designed by Italian director Giamaco Ravicchio.
Based on a well-known folk tale, the play tells of a love story between Xu Xian, the son of an herbalist, and Bai Suzhen, a snake spirit.
When Xu is a teenager, he saves a snake from the mouth of a turtle. Ever since then, their fate becomes inextricably intertwined. Years later, they meet again on a rainy day on the Broken Bridge of the West Lake in Hangzhou, and “chemical reactions” happen.
The play is presented in Chinese with English subtitles.
When talking about his first impression of the script, the Italian director says he saw people from different worlds fall in love without fear, and that love empowers them. Their identity can never define their ability to love.
“Mythology has always been essential to human beings. Through myths, we are enlightened with insights about how lives can be lives,” says Ravicchio. “And myths present to us, metaphorically or poetically, the answers to our deepest questions concerning our existence in this world.”
This time, Chinese director Guo Hongbo of the Shanghai Drama Arts Center is at the helm. He makes adjustments to the original version by adding more Chinese elements such as traditional opera moves and the role of narrator while maintaining the plot and stage effects. In addition, he has designed actions and used costumes to strengthen every character’s personality.
Technology plays a creative role in the composition and brings aesthetic pleasure to viewers. The narrator uses Chinese ink paintings and calligraphy to recount the story, and his works are simultaneously projected on seven detachable screens as backgrounds for the play.
In the story, the relationship between Bai and Xu is opposed by Bai’s snake friend, Xiao Qing.
Xu’s friend, monk Fa Hai, who obstinately believes their love is immoral, also disapproves of their marriage. Meanwhile, Xu faces his own identity crisis and is skeptical about Bai’s love.
“Audiences have to find out by themselves in the theater whether their love will break the boundaries of secularity,” says Guo, the director.
Apart from the “snake” symbolism often seen in numerous other myths, many mythological archetypes in this classic Chinese tale are also recognized.
Common mythical elements such as immortality, transformation, adventure, sacrifice, and love overcoming all obstacles are present in “White Snake.”
The music also merits audiences’ attention. Written by French composer Jeremy Bauer, winner of Best Film Award at 2008 Locarno International Film Festival, it uses traditional Chinese string instruments “zheng” and “erhu” to depict the vulnerable yet elegant movements of the snake beauty.
Electronic music expresses the sad feelings or dangerous situations, while jazz and symphony synchronize to the increasing affection. Most importantly, female singer Xu Jingling’s melodious voice sings out the inner thoughts of Bai, working well with the dancers’ serpentine moves.