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Hong Kong Dance Company's "Qingming Riverside" transforms historic painting into stage wonder for Shanghai Expo (with photos)

The Hong Kong Dance Company (HKDC) vividly transformed the national treasure painting "Along the River during the Qingming Festival" into an epic dance poem this evening (July 9) at World Expo 2010 Shanghai China (Shanghai Expo).

Choreographed and directed by Mr Leung Kwok-shing, the HKDC's Artistic Director, and featuring over 100 dancers and creative talents, the spectacular dance "Qingming Riverside" is a highlight of the HKSAR cultural programme for Shanghai Expo and part of the Shanghai Grand Theatre Dance Festival.

The opening night performance was presented at the Lyric Theatre of the Shanghai Grand Theatre with an attendance rate of 80%. The second of two performances for Shanghai Expo will take place at the same venue tomorrow evening.

Mr Leung said, "The dance poem is a living scroll painting. It depicts the lives of Bianjing citizens during the Northern Song Dynasty in broad painterly impressions, inviting the audience to travel through time to the dynamic capital on River Bian.

"Our dance design adds modern artistic elements to make the folk dances more energetic. The audience is taken back in time to a dazzling and prosperous era."

The painting masterpiece "Along the River during the Qingming Festival" is a genre painting by imperial court artist Zhang Zeduan. The five-metre-long artwork reveals in astounding detail prosperous and bustling street scenes during the Qingming Festival in Bianjing, now known as Kaifeng in Henan Province.

As dance and street performances developed rapidly during the Song Dynasty, the Script and Research Director of the dance poem, Mr Gerard C C Tsang, led a team to Kaifeng to study the culture and dance of that period.

Mr Tsang said, "It was a liberal city that never slept. Bianjing was an extremely affluent place filled with vibrancy and diversity. It was estimated that more than a million inhabitants were residing in the ancient capital at that time."

He said watching the dance poem is a moving experience with each character having their own philosophical outlook.

"Beneath the glamour of the metropolis, each person clings onto their dreams, aspirations and ideals, making the dance performance full-blooded, and giving it intellectual and emotional depth," Mr Tsang said.

The performances for Expo comprise two acts with 18 scenes, including "Canal Willows", "Donkey Riding", "Fish Watching" and "Boat Trackers". These were carefully selected to capture the mood of the scene and clearly express the complexity of the original painting.

The music is composed by Mr Shi Zhiyou from the China National Opera House while Mr Yang Zida from the Guangdong Dancers Association conceptualised and choreographed the folk dance pieces.

"Qingming Riverside" premiered in Hong Kong in 2007 to commemorate the 10th anniversary of the establishment of the HKSAR. This also coincided with the display of the national treasure painting at the Hong Kong Museum of Art. The dance poem has so far been performed more than 30 times in Hong Kong and major Mainland cities including Beijing, Shanghai, Hangzhou, Nanjing and Guangzhou.

Hailed as "a stage wonder arising from a painting masterpiece", the production won the Special Award and First Class Direction Award at the 10th Guangdong Arts Festival and the Hong Kong Dance Award in 2008.

During the Shanghai Expo period, 24 groups from Hong Kong will participate in 26 programmes comprising 70 performances at the Expo Site and other prominent performing arts venues in Shanghai. Four visual arts exhibitions will also be presented as key components of the HKSAR cultural programme.

Performances in July and August include "Grand Expectations" by Edward Lam Dance Theatre from July 22 to 25; "Hong Kong Cantonese Opera Treasures" by Hong Kong Arts Festival and the Chinese Artists Association of Hong Kong on August 19 and 20, and "The Legend of Zhang Baozai" by Musica Viva and The Hong Kong Academy for Performing Arts Alumni Association on August 20 and 21.

For full details and ticketing information, please visit the Event Calendar section on Hong Kong's Expo website, www.hkexpo2010.gov.hk.