Art of Shadow Puppetry | Here Comes the Vibrant and Ethereal Shadow Play of Palace Banquet in Tang Dynasty!

During the Chinese New Year holiday this year, the dance named Palace Banquet in Tang Dynasty designed and performed by Zhengzhou Song and Dance Theater went viral on the Internet, which has been especially appealing to the public. So what kind of graceful performance will we see when the traditional Chinese shadow puppetry meets the young ladies in the Palace Banquet in Tang Dynasty? A piece of news from Henan Elf Dreams Shadow Puppetry Troupe is that they have created a new version of the Palace Banquet in Tang Dynasty performed through dynamic and ethereal shadow puppetry.

Shadow puppetry, also known as "shadow drama" or "lamp shadow play", is a kind of folk drama in which stories are told in silhouettes made of animal skins or cardboard. The shadow puppetry artists behind the white curtain manipulate the puppet figures of young ladies in the performance while playing percussion and stringed instruments, bringing to the audience the pleasant life of the musicians of the Tang Dynasty so that the audience can find artistic tension between the ancient and modern, formal and informal, orthodox and delight. Realizing and expressing this artistic tension is at the core of revitalizing cultural resources.

As the person in charge of Henan Elf Dreams Shadow Puppetry Troupe introduced, the shadow play of Palace Banquet in Tang Dynasty is quite interesting in that, in addition to being faithful to the original work, it also makes clever use of the traditional shadow puppetry to create, choreograph and perform. The play is innovative in terms of music, lighting, plot as well as the shape of the puppet figures, and the use of colors. Similarity and difference exist between the shadow puppetry and the original performance, revealing the individuality and flexibility of the shadow play artists.

Li Sai, born in 1994, is the fifth-generation inheritor of "Li family's shadow puppetry". The history of his family can be traced back to the years during the reign of Emperor Guangxu of the Qing Dynasty. He has been performing shadow puppetry plays since he graduated from junior high school. As the founder of the Henan Elf Dreams Shadow Puppetry Troupe, he has participated in many shadow play exchanges and performances at home and abroad, and has a thorough grasp and understanding of the art of shadow puppetry carving, performance, singing, and percussion techniques.

"Recently I have been following the online popularity of Palace Banquet in Tang Dynasty. As a shadow puppetry inheritor, I thought about how to use the traditional shadow play techniques to vividly recreate the performance". Considering that a new cultural IP that has become a hit on the internet, combined with the traditional shadow puppetry, would certainly win popularity with the audience, I started discussing how to present it with my partners. Previously we usually performed traditional plays such as Wu Song Fights the Tiger and Monkey King Subdues White-Skeleton Demon. To appeal to audience, we had to innovate and keep up with the trend of the times by adding sound, light, electricity and technological means such as special effects." Li Sai talked about his team's original intention of creation.

"Making this shadow puppetry was very time-consuming and labor-intensive. It took three days for six or seven of us to make one puppet figure. The whole production process took about half a month.  The delicate skirt of the young ladies alone made them rack their brains, as the previous puppet figures were carved from cowhide, which were rather stiff and could not express the graceful and dynamic feeling of the dance. Finally, we decided to use fabric to solve this problem skillfully and found the ideal materials to make a smaller version of the same dress worn by the young ladies in the performance." Talking about the shadow-making process, Li Sai said it was an impressive experience.

Wang Zhenjun, Director of the Cultural Industry Research Centre at Zhengzhou University, said that shadow puppetry, as an ancient performing art, leaves an unforgettable memory in people's mind. As an intangible cultural heritage, a living fossil of culture, and a cultural memory of the agrarian age, we need to protect and pass on the art of shadow puppetry. In order to prevent its loss, the artists of Henan Elf Dream Shadow Puppetry Troupe have dedicated themselves to its research and creation so that the ancient art is not only preserved but also kept up to date. This pursuit of innovative development is worth promoting.

Copyright by Zhengzhou Municipal Tourism Administration