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Marco Polo proves a hit in US

Zhang Yi and Yuan Hui
Updated: Jan 19,2015 9:19 AM     China Daily

The Peacock Dance in Adventures of Marco Polo, is performed by the Performing Arts Group of Hohhot in Branson, Missouri, in 2013.[Photo/CHINA DAILY]

The show Adventures of Marco Polo combines Mongolian culture with Chinese acrobatics and magic.

Take an epic tale of discovery, throw in spectacular acrobatics and dancing, and spice it up with Mongolian music, and you have all the ingredients for a hit show.

That, at least, is what happened with Adventures of Marco Polo, whose success in the United States is all the more remarkable given that it is performed by what was until recently an obscure arts group from the Inner Mongolia autonomous region.

The production has been seen by 130,000 people in the US and brought in around 10 million yuan ($640,000) at the box office.

The show, inspired by the visit to China by the Italian explorer during the Yuan Dynasty (1271-1368), has been staged at the White House Theater in Branson, Missouri, since Aug 2013, and won the top prize at a Chinese ethnic performance festival in the same year.

“Mongolian dance is a unique feature of the drama, and the combination of acrobatics and magic is the secret of its success,” said Bai Jie, general manager of the Performing Arts Group of Hohhot, the company presenting the show.

“Our group is new, but our team is from the 50-year-old Inner Mongolian National Song and Dance Troupe,” Bai said.

“After it was founded in Mar 2013, the group adopted a policy that gives full play to the talented young blood that has emerged from the arts school at Inner Mongolia University in recent years, and this guaranteed the quality of the dance part of the show.

“The extraordinary openness of the Yuan Dynasty to foreign cultures and its tolerance of different religions is reflected in the show through Marco Polo’s experiences and the universal desire for love, which resonates with the audience.”

Polo, who could speak four languages, was the first European to bring back a detailed chronicle of experiences in China.

He set off for China in 1271, when the whole country was under Mongolian rule, and served at Kublai Khan’s court.

Many of the places Polo visited were not seen again by Europeans until modern times.

His descriptions of the fabulous wealth of China under the Yuan Dynasty and the prosperous cities aroused the interest of merchants and explorers. As a result, contacts and trade links between China and Europe strengthened.

Telling a story about contact between China and Europe is not new, but the subject is explored in the show through music and dance, presented a huge challenge to the newly formed group.

“The show aims to give Western audiences information about the historical links between the East and the West through Polo’s observations,” said director Cao Xiaoning.

“The entire show features Mongolian music and dance, and each dance section in a total of five acts is exquisitely designed in an effort to present Chinese culture in the Yuan Dynasty through Polo’s interaction with local people.”

Bai said the huge success came as a result of the group’s partnership with China Heaven Creation International Performing Arts Co, the promoter of the show in the US. The company gave advice on artistic matters, and Cao is its general manager.

“Our group used to do everything itself, but when we decided to perform overseas we found it is better to find a partner who knows the market,” Bai said. “Combining our expertise in producing a state-of-the-art show and the company’s commercial knowledge proved to be the correct choice.

“With the company taking care of the marketing in the US, we were free to concentrate on the design of the show and improving the quality of the performance.”

Adventures of Marco Polo has set a record for Chinese music and dance shows performed abroad. It has been staged more than 420 times in the US since its premiere.

“We have found a way to achieve commercial success in a foreign market, and we now have a better understanding of how to interpret Mongolian culture for foreign audiences,” Bai added.

“Our group will continue its mission to showcase Mongolian culture. We plan to produce a drama each year to let more audiences enjoy it.”