The National Theatre of China’s beautiful physical theatre piece, A Life on the Silk Road, tells a vivid story of Zhang Qian’s heroic quest through dancing, martial arts, puppetry, live music and projection.
A Life on the Silk Road is a visually beautiful depiction of the story of Zhang Qian, a Han dynasty explorer. The National Theatre of China tackle this tale of adventure, courage and endurance with grace – it’s a heroic quest being sung. If you don’t know already know the story though, you may have trouble connecting the dots as to what is happening.
One of the most beautiful aspects of Fringe is all the international work that is presented. Asian theatre is so different from both British and continental European theatre practice, that seeing these shows is a worthy experience in itself. And sometimes, like here, the show also happens to be superb with an ensemble that doesn’t miss a beat.
Physical theatre, martial arts, puppetry, live music and projections combine here, to create a wonderful visual and acoustic experience that is foreign and comfortable at the same time. There’s a high sense of style that is present throughout the whole performance – it is obvious that the show is produced by a company with money, despite the fact the set design and props are sparse. It is only at one point, when the projections change from more artful images to a clear projection of trees and leaves, that the otherwise unified (and immaculate) style of A Life on the Silk Road seems to falter a bit.
Not understanding everything that is happening has little to do with the company – the National Theatre of China has clearly created the show for an audience well-aware of the story of Zhang Qian, a national hero. Rather, we should understand this experience as an indicator that we should further study the world around us, and learn about the legends and mythologies of other cultures, for there is so much to discover.