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Undertaking a journey to the West

By Chen Nan | China Daily | Updated: 2024-05-09 06:54
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A scene from the dance drama, Journey to the West, a collaboration between Chinese and French artists, is touring nationwide and will be staged in Paris on May 21. [Photo provided to China Daily]

Sino-French dance drama, result of years of collaboration, to tour China and France this year, Chen Nan reports.

Journey to the West, by Ming Dynasty (1368-1644) writer Wu Cheng'en, follows the adventures of the Tang Dynasty (618-907) monk Xuanzang and his three disciples: the animal spirits Sun Wukong, or the Monkey King, Zhu Bajie, and Sha Wujing, on their journey to find Buddhist scriptures.

In 1966, when French composer Laurent Petitgirard received a copy of the novel for his 16th birthday from his elder brother, he was intrigued. He read the story over and over again, and began to think about turning it into music.

That didn't happen for more than 50 years, until Petitgirard met dancer-choreographer Wang Yabin in Paris in 2019.

On April 29, the composer was present in the theater of Beijing Dance Academy to witness the dance drama the two created together. Also titled Journey to the West, it is directed and choreographed by Wang, with a 74-minute score by Petitgirard.

Between May 1 and 18, Journey to the West is doing a 20-performance tour of cities including Taiyuan, Shanxi province, Shenyang, Liaoning province, and Zhuhai, Guangdong province before being presented at the Theatre Marigny in Paris on May 21, as part of the program celebrating the 60th anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic ties between China and France. In December, it will tour France, including performances in Biarritz, Arcachon and Cannes.

"For me, it's also a journey, from writing the music alone for three years to recording the music with 90 musicians from the Hungarian Symphony Orchestra Budapest in 2021, from having a number of online meetings with Wang and other creative team members, to meeting them in person in Beijing," says the 74-year-old, who was born in Paris and who studied piano and composition as a child. Petitgirard's work ranges from symphonic music, operas and chamber music, to film scores.

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