Ticket sales for shows of a Canadian circus company in Hangzhou signal post-pandemic enthusiasm, Zhang Kun reports in Shanghai.
Cirque du Soleil'sX: The Land of Fantasy, a resident show in Hangzhou, capital of East China's Zhejiang province, was the first production by the Canadian circus company to resume performances after the COVID-19 pandemic.
The debut performance on June 3 was attended by medical workers and those who have worked on the front lines of the fight against the disease. The first three shows from June 5 to 7 were sold out soon after the announcement was made. Some enthusiastic audiences even took the express train from Shanghai to watch the show.
A young woman named Zhao Yue told Shanghai Observer on June 7 that she had planned to see the show after it was launched in Hangzhou last year but couldn't make it before the pandemic. "I booked the ticket as soon as it resumed performance."
Zhu Yuanxiao, a spokeswoman for Hangzhou Xintiandi Group that is hosting the show in one of its venues, says: "Audiences have responded with so much enthusiasm that almost all the tickets have sold out for the shows in June."
According to local regulations, the theater is able to open 50 percent of its more than 1,400 seats for the performances for the time being. Three shows are scheduled for Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays this month, according to Xia Xiaoyu, deputy general manager in charge of the culture and tourism department at Hangzhou Xintiandi.
Jointly produced by Cirque du Soleil and Hangzhou Xintiandi Group,X: The Land of Fantasypremiered on Aug 9. The company put up 111 shows that were seen by more than 90,000 people before the pandemic forced all live shows in the city to close on Jan 23.
The show tells the story of two clashing tribes. It's inspired by Marco Polo's trip to Hangzhou, a beautiful encounter between the East and West, according to Hugo Belanger, the scriptwriter and director.
The Hangzhou Xintiandi Sun Theater, renovated from a factory in the city's former industrial zone, presented some creative challenges to Cirque du Soleil, but the circus has been able to turn those into new visual wonders for the audience to experience.
The theater features 360-degree rotating seats, divided into two zones to represent the encounter of two different worlds. It also has a stage that is more than 100 meters wide.
Although hosting below full capacity means not being able to cover operational costs, Xia says: "The show must go on. We cannot let the fire die out ... for months we were training and waiting, believing this will pass and life will come back to normal."
Due to the pandemic, Cirque du Soleil was by late March forced to shutter almost all of its operations and lay off 95 percent of its staff members.
On May 6, the company announced that it had received "emergency funds" of $50 million from three shareholders, including China's Fosun Group.
In Hangzhou, the production team behind X: The Land of Fantasy has been largely unaffected, except for the absence of 20 expat staffers who are unable to return to Hangzhou because of travel bans in China.
"We have managed to hire a few Chinese artists, whose international contracts were canceled because of the pandemic," Xia says. "We are also in close contact with our overseas colleagues and are looking forward to their return."
Diane Quinn, chief creative officer of Cirque du Soleil, says: "When we were getting ready to restartX: The Land of Fantasy, we were not able to have some of our team from North America re-enter China due to the pandemic, but we still were able to watch the rehearsals and give our feedback.
"We also have a good local team who worked closely with us. The artistic director of the show was in regular contact with the local team. After each performance, now that we are open, we are able to watch the performance remotely and give nightly notes-this would not have been possible even 10 years ago, but now with such solid technology it is possible."
The show in Hangzhou is building the fan base for Cirque du Soleil, as well as other touring shows, Quinn says.
Their fans in China are fantastic because they are interested in knowing more about the shows and how they work, she adds.