By May S. Ruiz
Vivian (Ulan) Xuerong, a film and television producer based in Beijing with a local office in Los Angeles, grew up in Ordos in Inner Mongolia. She was raised in a culturally rich and diverse environment. This vibrant childhood had given her a wealth of ideas which she nurtured throughout her life.
Three years ago, Xuerong decided to transform these imaginations from dream to reality in a spectacular show called ‘Memory 5D+’. She is sharing this once in a lifetime event for the first time outside of China on Friday, May 26, and Saturday, May 27, at 8pm on both days at the Pasadena Civic Auditorium.
Billed as an immersive musical odyssey to a distant past, ‘Memory 5D+’ is an innovative show of epic proportions, featuring 17 of China’s most revered musical performers – national treasures in their native country – playing rare traditional instruments largely unknown in the western world.
The $4 million production puts together a cast of 43 musicians, singers and dancers who will perform against a backdrop of real, virtual and projected images and action that evokes China’s unique cultural heritage.
Collaborating with Xuerong on this massive event are two of Hollywood’s respected visionaries. Creative designer Tom E. Marzullo – who has created, designed and directed international tours for Justin Bieber, Chris Brown, Prince, KISS, Luther Van Dross, among others – will create new imagery to provide the setting for the artists performing classical works of Chinese music.
Marzullo and his team are designing a multi-dimensional immersive journey for ‘Memory 5D+’ using state-of-the art concert production techniques, including high definition digital video and lighting, 7.1 surround sound, lasers, and aromatic sensory technology.
The scenario for ‘Memory 5D+’ was written by filmmaker John Hughes, who is known for visual effects he generated in feature films such as ‘Frozen’, ‘Kung Fu Panda 2’, ‘Shrek Forever After’, ‘Spider-Man 3’, ‘Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban’, among others.
“In ‘Memory 5D+’, the elusive nature of Chinese spirit becomes tangible and poignant,” declares Hughes. “Philosophies, characterized in the music, are those most Westerners know from Taoist thought including concepts of Yin and Yang, the Five Elements, Chinese Medicine, Astronomy, and Tai Chi. These have long guided millions of people and through performance, music can bring about a communication of the soul in a joyful and harmonious way.”
Against the background of the creation of the universe, ‘Memory 5D+’ frames a story of how the forces of darkness and light became one. Yin (darkness) and Yang (light) have travelled through time and space, flying across mountains and rivers to arrive at an ancient and mysterious Orient. They abound in the forest, and later encounter a variety of magical birds. Symbolic bamboo leaves and birds’ feathers dance in the wind and fall to the ground. Everything strikes the world as new and beautiful, and they are innocent of what is ahead of them.
Hughes dramatized a dance scenario backed by celebrated traditional Chinese music. The story captures the vital essence of Taoist thought: Tao is a oneness that contains two component forces known as Yin and Yang which have starkly contrasting qualities. Taoism describes the perfect symmetry of light and dark as so powerful it causes everything we know to come into existence and that they eventually intertwine seamlessly to establish a balance.
This equilibrium is depicted in ‘Memory 5D+’ through music and dance. Hughes describes, “A drama of contrasting responses leads to an imbalance, and the conflict carries the power for the universe to become unstable. Eventually the differences are resolved, and they once more fuse with each other in harmony. They again reach a state of interdependence and counterbalance. At the end, everything is peaceful and glorious.”
“Most importantly, ‘Memory 5D+’ reflects the significance of love, faith, and spirit, as well as people’s yearning for – and tireless pursuit of – love and all things of beauty,” expounds Hughes. “For when all matters cease to exist in the universe, the only things that are truly immortal are spirit and love. I hope that, one day, mankind will really understand that love is the universe’s biggest mystery and that finding energies in others that most perfectly complement oneself are the foundation for amicable coexistence.”
‘Memory 5D+’ features many of China’s most important musical instruments with defining influence on its culture. These include: the cowboy flute, gijak, guqin (Chinese zither), guzheng (zither), konghou (Chinese harp), morin khuur (horsehead fiddle), pipa (Chinese flute), shamanic drum (tuva drum), topshur, and yekele.
Chinese theatrical productions are replete with a rich tradition of stage techniques. ‘Memory 5D+’ employs Chinese acrobatics, one of the oldest traditional performing arts that emerged during the Warring States Period; dolan muqam, a comprehensive classical performance art developed by the Uygur ethnic group that features free and unrestrained style, coupled with simple yet powerful dance rhythms; khoomei (throat singing), a magical singing art created by the Mongolian people; urtin duu (Mongolian long tune), which represents the highest achievement of Mongolian singing art and reputed as the ‘living fossil of prairie music’; shadow play, which integrates shadow, art, paper cutting, sculpture, dance, music, talking, and singing; Suzhou Pingtan (storytelling and ballad singing in Suzhou dialect); and Tibetan folk songs.
‘Memory 5D+’ showcases the diversity of Chinese culture which many Westerners aren’t aware of. As Hughes says, “America is strong because it’s made of up of different groups and cultures, thus is called a ‘melting pot’. China, with its 56 ethnic groups, is just that – a ‘melting pot’. The show will acquaint its audience with some of these groups that have their own distinctive art forms and characteristics.”
Xuerong adds, “This 90-minute production will introduce ten instruments which are almost obsolete that not many people know how to play them. They are also not known in the western world. Through the musical interpretations in ‘Memory 5D+’, I want to show that China is so advanced – these instruments existed over a thousand years ago, long before other nations’ history began.”
“The show itself is based on an ancient philosophy that the Chinese have been imbued with since birth and which they handed down through the ages,” Xuerong continues. “Through ‘Memory 5D+’ I would also like to pass along China’s ancient beliefs and culture to the next generation, many of whom are not familiar with it.”
After finding the artists, performers, and various technical personnel to help her realize her ambitious undertaking, Xuerong traveled with them to Ordos where they rehearsed the show. She discloses, “Audiences from several towns away previewed ‘Memory 5D+’. It was an unprecedented immersive experience for them – together with the performers, the audience travelled through space and time in their search for the key to a happy life. The show gained a brilliant reputation and met with much success.”
Of all the cities in the U.S. in which to inaugurate ‘Memory 5D+’, Xuerong chose Pasadena. “Culture and heritage are deeply important to me, and I think Pasadena has much of both,” she reasons. “It is the perfect venue from which to debut its worldwide tour. The Pasadena Civic Auditorium has hosted many awards shows, musical performances, and theatrical events. It has so many happy memories; it will bring good luck to us.”
From its American premiere, ‘Memory 5D+’ will travel to several Chinese cities, with a performance in Guangdong scheduled in June, according to Xuerong. She also says discussions with promoters from French and Italian professional institutions are underway.
Following its international tour ‘Memory 5D+’ will go back to Ordos. Reveals Xuerong, “After the rehearsal and preview, the local government decided to invite ‘Memory 5D+’ to be a resident show. And although it has won much praise, we are still making improvements to the program. We are chasing perfection and even greater breakthroughs in stage technology; we are endeavoring to give our audience the very best in technological magic.”
Xuerong has come far from her humble youth in Ordos. She has successfully established the China Film HuaTeng Movie & TV Culture Co., Ltd. in Beijing and L.A., and has produced several shows. But her most spectacular creation yet – ‘Memory 5D+’ – which originated from her early childhood musings may be the one to bring her the greatest acclaim.
Ordos, which Xuerong asserts is the final resting place of the immortal Genghis Khan, is a land rich in cashmere as well as rare natural resources. It is referred to as the ‘Ocean of folk songs and hometown of dance’ to honor the natural artistic talent of the Mongolian people who inhabit it. It will be here that ‘Memory 5D+’ will ultimately reside – a fitting tribute to Xuerong’s beloved homeland and Chinese heritage.