Tiananmen (Gate of Heavenly Peace), a major theatrical performance intended to capture Beijing's spirit, will premiere on May 16 at the National Indoor Stadium.
The show's chief artistic director Chen Weiya has turned the National Indoor Stadium into a huge, round stage with a 60-meter-long and 20-meter-high circular LED screen. It's also outfitted with mechanical devices that enable parts of the stage to move in different ways.
The 80-minute show combines song, dance, poetry, drama, acrobatics, video and 3D digital art.
"It's not another ordinary variety show about Beijing's history and culture," Chen says. "We're trying to make it a new classic that captures the spirit of the city and emotions of its people."
Chen assisted Zhang Yimou to direct the Beijing Olympic Games' opening ceremony. Chen was also the core force behind the 2010 Asian Games' opening and closing ceremonies in Guangdong's provincial capital Guangzhou.
Viewers wear 3D glasses to watch digital images that hover in the air and video on the LED screen that accompany live performances, says executive director Shen Chen.
The performances' background will be Tiananmen's rostrum and square, and the Forbidden City.
"Tiananmen has long been a spiritual landmark for Chinese who share a national and cultural identity," he says.
Chen and a production crew of more than 600 have been working since early April. Many participating professionals have cooperated with Chen on previous massive projects. Among them are scriptwriter Zhu Hai, composer Bian Liunian, lighting designer Sha Xiaolan and stage designer Sun Tianwei.
The show is produced by the Information Office of the Beijing Municipal Government and the Beijing Performance & Arts Group. It showcases the development of Beijing's cityscapes, natural scenery and historical sites. It also documents historical events and such figures as novelist and thinker Lu Xun and Chairman Mao Zedong. Songs include tunes most Chinese are familiar with, such as Ode to Beijing, Big Bowl Teahouse at Qianmen and Boats on Beihai Lake, composer Bian Liunian says.
A 3D "virtual Beijinger", who floats in the air, guides audiences from the early 20th century to present-day Beijing.
Four acts commemorate historic events. They include the May Fourth Movement in 1919; the War of Resistance against Japanese Aggression (1937-45); the War of Liberation (1945-49); New China's founding in 1949; the reform and opening-up in the early 1980s; and the hosting of the Beijing Olympics in 2008.
Pop stars Mo Hualun and Tan Jing, and opera singers Ding Yi and Yao Hong, perform alongside amateurs. The amateurs include residents whose families have lived in Beijing for centuries, migrant workers and foreign students.
The oldest performer is 83-year-old Li Bin, who's a retired actor from the Beijing People's Theater. The youngest are 4-year-olds from a nearby kindergarten.
Liang Junjian, a young migrant worker from Hebei province, who has delivered flowers while dressed like a clown in Beijing for seven years, will perform in the first three test runs from May 16-18. "I've been trying hard to integrate my life into this metropolis. I feel proud to be part of the show about my second hometown," he says.
Cui Zhongsan, a 64-year-old Beijinger, will appear onstage for the fourth act. Cui was born to a family of tai chi masters and has made cameos in many massive shows in Beijing.
"Beijing has undergone dramatic changes in my lifetime," he says. "Tiananmen offers the best panoramic of my city I've seen."
The show will undergo revisions based on audiences' and experts' feedback, Beijing Performance & Arts Group president Kang Wei says.
It will run on a regular basis at the National Indoor Stadium, starting early next year, Kang says.