|Setting for the show. Imagine a mountain as the unseen background and a full moon.|
Although exhausted from an international flight and two days of non-stop sightseeing, we were dropped off for the evening performance named "Everlasting Sorrow." Our guide prepped us with the story line and we sat expecting some colorful costumes and special effects. The Chinese love drama, but little did we know what we were in for.
This show is an absolute must if you visit the Terracotta Warriors. It takes place on the grounds of the Tang Dynasty's winter palace, a beautiful setting of a temple with a lake in front and hill behind. .
From the moment the show started, sleepy or not, it grabbed our full attention. The cast flew through the air as if they were levitating, the stage changed before our eyes and the most fabulous dancers moved delicately in their cumbersome, yet extraordinary costumes. Imagine a combination of Cirque du Soleil, a Las Vegas Show, a Broadway musical, a Hollywood Epic, and the Chinese Opera-- all to lyrical, evocative music. Smoke and mirrors, fire and fountains rising from the lake, a cast of at least a hundred, the entire hillside behind the temple illuminated -- including a roaring waterfall. This production pulled out every trick in the book of special effects. We were in total awe, what could possibly happen next? Just when we were sure we had seen it all, doves were released and flew over our heads.
I would return to see this show time and time again. You can’t possible appreciate each scene with so much happening on stage. Don’t miss it and take a camera with a telephoto lens.
With apologies to poet Bai Juyi, we are excerpting portions of his poem, Everlasting Sorrow, as we attempt to convey the beauty and grandeur of this production.
China's Emperor, craving beauty that might shake an empire,
Was on the throne for many years, searching, never finding,
Till a little child of the Yang clan...
... At last one day was chosen for the imperial household.
If she but turned her head and smiled, there were cast a hundred spells,
And the powder and paint of the Six Palaces faded into nothing.
... It was early spring. They bathed her in the Flower Pure Pool,
Which warmed and smoothed the creamy-tinted crystal of her skin ...
... When first the Emperor noticed her and chose her for his bride ...
The cloud of her hair, petal of her cheek, gold ripples of her crown when she moved ... ... the Emperor, from that time forth, forsook his early hearings ...
And lavished all his time on her with feasts and revelry,
His mistress of the spring, his despot of the night.
Her sisters and her brothers all were given titles;
And, because she so illumined and glorified her clan,
She brought to every father, every mother through the empire,
Happiness when a girl was born rather than a boy.
... The Emperor's eyes could never gaze on her enough-
Till war-drums, booming ... shocked the whole earth
And broke the tunes of The Rainbow Skirt and the Feathered Coat.
The Forbidden City, the nine-tiered palace, loomed in the dust
From thousands of horses and chariots headed southwest.
The imperial flag opened the way, now moving and now pausing- -
But thirty miles from the capital, beyond the western gate,
The men of the army stopped, not one of them would stir
Till under their horses' hoofs they might trample those moth- eyebrows....
Flowery hairpins fell to the ground, no one picked them up,
And a green and white jade hair-tassel and a yellowgold hair- bird.
The Emperor could not save her, he could only cover his face.
And later when he turned to look, the place of blood and tears
Was hidden in a yellow dust blown by a cold wind. ...
... a petal was like her face and a willow-leaf her eyebrow --
And what could he do but cry whenever he looked at them?
... Her Pear-Garden Players became white-haired ...
... a Taoist priest ... was a guest of heaven,
Able to summon spirits by his concentrated mind.
And people were so moved by the Emperor's constant brooding
That they besought the Taoist priest to see if he could find her.
He opened his way in space and clove the ether like lightning,
Up to heaven, under the earth, looking everywhere ...
Above, he searched the Green Void, below, the Yellow Spring;
But he failed, in either place, to find the one he looked for.
And then he heard accounts of an enchanted isle at sea,
A part of the intangible and incorporeal world,
With pavilions and fine towers in the five-coloured air,
And of exquisite immortals moving to and fro,
And of one among them-whom they called The Ever True-
With a face of snow and flowers resembling hers he sought ...
... And the tear-drops drifting down her sad white face
Were like a rain in spring on the blossom of the pear.
But love glowed deep within her eyes when she bade him thank her liege,
... she took out, with emotion, the pledges he had given
And, through his envoy, sent him back a shell box and gold hairpin,
But kept one branch of the hairpin and one side of the box, Breaking the gold of the hairpin, breaking the shell of the box;
"Our souls belong together," she said, " like this gold and this shell --
Somewhere, sometime, on earth or in heaven, we shall surely
And she sent him, by his messenger, a sentence reminding him
Of vows which had been known only to their two hearts:
"On the seventh day of the Seventh-month, in the Palace of Long Life,
We told each other secretly in the quiet midnight world
That we wished to fly in heaven, two birds with the wings of one,
And to grow together on the earth, two branches of one tree."
Earth endures, heaven endures; some time both shall end,
While this unending sorrow goes on and on for ever.
Our bus of weary world travelers relived the experience all the way back to Xi'an, relieved that no one had listened to our grumbling about extending an already tiring day. Definitely worth a sleep deficit.
Bai Juyi (772-846) was known as the people's poet. Famous poets of his era, Tang Dynasty (618-906), produced more sophisticated work for the court, but Bai poems were simpler and beloved by the majority of readers. Not unlike Barbara Cartland of romance writers or Joyce Kilmer of "Trees" fame.
Guess we aren't as enlightened as members of the Tang court because we find them elegant and touching. If you would like to read "Everlasting Sorrow" in its entirety or more of Bai Juyi's work, go to