Across boundaries, an original musical, a split personality

Ma Yue
Is there any common ground between Peking Opera and the pop culture of animation, comics and games? Audiences will be the judge when musical "Out of the Dream" hits the stage.
Ma Yue
SSI ļʱ

Is there any common ground between traditional Peking Opera and the modern pop culture of online animation, comics and games?

Audiences will be the judge when "Out of the Dream," an original musical created by the streaming platform iQiyi, hits the mainstream stage at Shanghai Grand Theater on August 3-7.

The show's director Ma Da has an answer to the question. He said integrating the two very different musical genres is possible but challenging.

"There is no reference about how such an integration can be realized because no one has done it before," said Ma. "But that's exactly why I accepted this challenge – to break out of my comfort zone and explore."

Across boundaries, an original musical, a split personality
Ti Gong

A poster for "Out of the Dream"

Based on a novel of the same name, the plot of "Out of the Dream" centers on a young Peking Opera singer named Yu Wanyi, who gets expelled from her troupe after messing up a performance. She meets Bai Feili, a play producer for animation, comics and games, who has a split personality. Theirs is a love story as well as a clash between traditional and pop cultures.

"The concept of a split personality reflects the inner struggle and anxiety of modern people," said Ma. "I couldn't help but think about my own social identity and lifestyle while working on this production. I hope it will stir audiences to thought, too."

The cast features Peking Opera singers, musical stage actors and students. Opera and vocal teachers were recruited to help the actors adapt to a musical environment that straddles two very different worlds.

Yu Yi, cast member and veteran musical stage actor, said he did learn a lot about traditional opera from his grandmother during his childhood.

"I didn't carry on with it because my grandmother said traditional opera has a very strict regime that creates muscle memories that would somehow restrict a practitioner from going into other performing arts in the future," said Yu.

"In traditional opera, every single look and hand position has its meaning," he explained. "There shouldn't be less and there shouldn't be more."

Across boundaries, an original musical, a split personality
Ti Gong

He may be a veteran of stage musicals, but singer Yu Yi is no stranger to Peking Opera. His grandmother educated him in traditional opera when he was a child.

Yet Yu said he believes tradition should be cherished.

"To me, some arts should be kept the way they always have been," he said. "I hope this new work will give musical followers a glimpse of the charm of Peking Opera, which I still respect and love."

Ending on a philosophical note, Yu said: "Just like the characters in the musical, we all face a lot of hesitation, choices and decisions in life."

Composer Chen Qifeng said the musical features some 20 original songs.

"I tried to integrate traditional opera and the entertaining musical elements from ACG (animation, comics and games) culture," he said. "It's not a competition or comparison of the two forms."

Chen added: "Just like the return of Chinese elements in fashion, the modern generation that has endured rounds of cultural changes is starting to look back to traditional heritage and see how it can be applied to contemporary life."

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