Sunday, 20 November 2011

Suspended Belief

Faye Leung as the Princess dancing in water
Last night we went to Macau to watch the much talked about The House of Dancing Water at City of Dreams.

It's been running for over a year now and for the first anniversary show pianist Li Yundi made a one-off special appearance with his piano.

In any event the production cost over $250 million, five years in the planning and two years of rehearsals. The mastermind behind it is Franco Dragone, who also produced Le Reve at Wynn Macau which we saw earlier this year.

And in some of the acts there are similarities, but this show has some Asian elements.

The intimate theatre is in The City of Dreams complex
Apparently in the lead up to the opening of THODW, Dragone practically locked himself in the theatre with the crew for weeks keeping any aspect of the spectacle top secret.

For the most part it's paid off since the only competitor is Cirque du Soleil's Zaia, which reportedly initially bored Chinese audiences who are already familiar with Chinese acrobatic routines and wanted something different.

The basic storyline of THODW according to the official website is:

In a land beyond the limits of the Far East, there is an extraordinary Kingdom where the King and nature reigns.

The King has two lovely children. The eldest, a beautiful daughter by his deceased wife, the Fairy Queen. After her death, the King married the Serpent Queen and together they had a son. At the King's death, the Serpent Queen unveils her frustrations and imprisons the Princess in a cage, as her true desire is to see her son be the one and only Heir to the Kingdom. The cruel stepmother then leads the Kingdom to desolation and despair.

Miraculously, a windstorm then brings to shore a young and brave Stranger from his shipwreck. He finds out about the Princess and eventually they fall in love. Promising to save her Kingdom, he decides to brave any dangers in hope of freeing her from the clutches of the Serpent Queen.

Performers suspended above the pool
But that's not really the show we saw.

The basic story we saw was an Asian man on a bamboo raft who gets thrown into the water and then he meets up with a man who looks like a good pirate. They encounter a beautiful girl locked in a cage and from then onwards are determined to save her while encountering an African tribe as well as the Serpent Queen who looks more like a dominatrix with a clown sidekick.

Several battles between them ensue until a motorcycle gang show up that the good pirate is affiliated with and then before we know it, the conflict is amazingly over and everything is back to goodness and nature again.

Each of the acts were impressive, particularly the one near the beginning showing pirates diving off various points off the ship's mast, or when the evil band get on large swings and propel themselves through the air.

Faye Leung is the Princess, formerly the senior principal dancer of the Hong Kong Ballet and she is graceful and delicate. It must have been quite an adjustment for her to dance on wet surfaces and be submerged under water many times.

What came completely out of the blue were the motorcycles. The stunts themselves were excellent, jumping off ramps and in some cases choreographed closely together. But how were they related to the storyline at all?

And then there's a very skinny black guy who is also a contortionist! Where did he come from?

The end of the show reveals a mixed bag of performers
Which is why THODW requires the audience to totally suspend its need for a logical storyline for 90 minutes and just enjoy the show for its stunts and technical brilliance of having a stage pool that holds the equivalent of five Olympic swimming pools or 3.7 million gallons of water and the over 30 scuba divers underneath helping out with positioning performers and underwater safety for the show.

A very impressive and energetic show. It's Macau's answer to Las Vegas' entertainment -- complete with motorcycles. Go figure.

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