In just 100 minutes, the audience can appreciate the 8,000-year-long history of Tianshui, Gansu province, thanks to a three-act immersive show, which also offers the glimpses of Fu Hsi Culture, Dadiwan Primal Tribe Culture and the culture of the Maiji Mountain Grottoes.
With their respective themes of sky, Earth and humans, the three acts are performed in three separate areas. Instead of sitting in one auditorium, the audience are divided into two groups and walk through the first two acts in a different order and gather for the third act.
The two aisles that connect the three areas are also two art scenes showcasing the families in Tianshui and Dadiwan culture. The whole walking route makes a large picture of a tai chi diagram.
Named Pretty Tianshui, the show that aims to become a new name card for the city, premiered in Tianshui on Sept 29, attracting an enthusiastic audience of over 1,000.
Located in southeast Gansu, Tianshui is said to have been the hometown of Fu Xi (Fu Hsi), one of ancient China's "three wise kings".As such, the city is known as the root of ancient Chinese culture.
The main historical cultures in the city include Fu Hsi Culture, Dadiwan Primal Tribe Culture, the early culture of the Qin State (one of the vassal states from 900-206 BC), the Maiji Mountain Grottoes artistic culture and ancient war culture during the Three Kingdoms period (220-280).
The co-directors and the co-writers of the show, Zhang Dong and Cong Mingling, were invited to create the show in 2017. When the couple first visited Tianshui, they were impressed by the elegance and long history of the city.
To compress 8,000 years of history into a 100-minute show was not easy. "They have five main cultures that last for 8,000 years, and every single one is an epic story," Cong says.
"At first we wanted to write a show about only Fu Hsi Culture, but as we came to know Tianshui more and stay here longer, we realized that the culture of Fu Hsi alone can't convey a full picture of the city, so in the end we included all five cultures in the show," she says.
Cong and Zhang took three years to finish writing the show. "The creation process was also a process of learning more about Chinese civilization," Cong says, adding that she had read three thick county annals of Tianshui to learn about its history.
Cong thinks even though the city has a long history, the way they present it is modern and young. Take music as an example, besides guqin, a seven-string traditional Chinese instrument, rock 'n' roll is also used in the show.
Cong says she hopes the show can arouse young people's interest in learning more about the history of Tianshui.
"It's like a history class for children. It's not a full view but a window for them to learn more about Tianshui," she says.
"The audience, especially tourists, may just hear about Fu Hsi as a mythological figure, through watching the show they can have an idea of what kind of person Fu Hsi was," Cong says.
She thinks Fu Hsi was not born a king, but through disaster he became one. "Like today, when we are facing problems or disasters, or even a pandemic, it's a chance for us to learn and improve ourselves," she says.
The close proximity of the actors and audience is one highlight of the show as each breath of the actor can be noted by the audience.
Cong says the key for the performances of the actors is believing in his or her character so that they can immerse the audience in the show.
The show's premiere also marked the opening of the Tianshui Grand Theater.
The theater, which took two years to build and can host an audience of 1,200, was designed by Zhu Xiaodi, former president of Beijing Institute of Architectural Design especially for the show.
The design of the theater is inspired by Maiji Mountain and the mountains around the theater.
There are many mechanical devices set in the theater including 3-D image devices and a huge movable screen to help create an immersive experience for the audience.
The combination of art and technology is another highlight of the show. Cong says technology is just a tool to present the 8,000-year-history of Tianshui, and she thinks the history is the most touching element of the show.
The production team also produced the show Encore Dunhuang in 2016, which has been performed for an accumulated audience of over 1.2 million and become a name card for Dunhuang.
Cong thinks the customized theater in Tianshui has given their team more possibilities to present the show in a more creative way.
Wang Jun, mayor of the city, said at the premiere that the show not only filled the gap in large-scale shows for tourists in Tianshui, it was also an important step to speed up the development of tourism in the city.
According to Wang Erjiang, producer of the show, Pretty Tianshui can attract tourists to Tianshui and encourage them to stay one or two more days.
Zhang thinks if the tourists visit the tourist attractions in Tianshui before they watch the show, they may have a better understanding of the story told in the show.
"On the other hand, when the tourists visit the sites after watching the show, they can also better appreciate the cultural relics," he says.