CCJ Conservatory Visits The Forbidden City

The Columbia City Jazz Conservatoryin the forbidden City

Saturday, July 1 - The Forbidden City

We wrestle our luggage from the hotel, board the bus to head to the train station to depart for our next destintion, where our first performance is supposed to be held. Before we go to the train station, we visit the Forbidden City.

In the heart of Beijing, the Forbidden City is one of the most magnificent architectural structures in all of China. It was completed in 1420, and housed 24 ruling emperors during a period of over 500 years. The magnificence of this place really doesn't sink in until I remind the dancers that the Forbidden City existed before Columbus arrived in America. This is truly an amazing place.


We exit the Forbidden City and walk over to Tian'an Men Square, also known as the "The Square of the Gate of Heavenly Peace". The mausoleum for Chairman Mao is the centerpiece of the Square. People are flying kites and there are vendors selling goods. We continue to have folks stop us and snap pictures with their cell phones and cameras.

There is construction everywhere in preparation for the Olympics. New structures are being build, and old structures are getting face lifts.

Train station in Laiyang City

Sunday, July 2nd - Laiyang City

We arrive in Laiyang in Shandong Province around 4:00 AM or so. We wrestle our luggage off the train, and board a bus to our hotel. All the luggage won't fit in the baggage compartments under the bus, so we have to fill the few front rows of seats inside the bus with is as well. We check into Huayin Hotel, grab some lunch, and since we have the afternoon free, everybody decides to do what dancers do best - SHOP!

Laiyang is a small city without much tourist business. As a result, many people here have seen few Westerners. Our black dancers immediately draw attention, especially the boys, and the girls with blond hair draw attention as well. As we try to move from one shop to another, crowds begin to gather and everybody has their cell phones out taking pictures of us. There is a growing group that is following us around that will pretend to be shopping any time we stop and turn to look at them. Finally, in one shop the crowd becomes a little too much as they begin to press in on us and a few of the dancers start to get afraid. We make a quick decision to break up into small groups to attract less attention and escape off in different directions to work our way back to the hotel.

Laiyang Theatre

Theatre where our first performance will be! The lobby has been converted into a bicycle shop!

Laiyang Theatre

Monday, July 3rd- the Laiyang Theatre

Today will be our first dancing since leaving SC. We'll see the theatre and props for the first time.

The standard of living in Laiyang is not equal to that the larger cities in this province. This become very obvious when we arrive at the theatre. At one point in time, this was a very beautiful facility. Today, a bicycle and scooter store occupies the lobby and small shops have set up in every available space around the outside of the theatre. Patrons enter the theatre through the bike shop/lobby!

As we venture inside, we find a large stage with a wooden floor, which is not in the best of conditions, and we decide that we cannot dance on it without Marley. However, LC has been unable to find any Marley in the city, so I take a drive with Ema and Mr. Wong to find a suitable substitute.

Publicity Stunt

Meeting children just getting out of school to hand out publicity brochures!

We wind our way though crowded streets to a small shop carrying various floor coverings. After looking at a number of linoleum products, we drive out to a warehouse on the outskirts of the city. We find a piece of linoleum that when flipped over, has a resemblance to Marley.

While I'm out looking for flooring, Dale holds a warm-up class to stretch out sore muscles and checks the blocking of several pieces. Our props have not arrived from Beijing yet, the audio technician for the theatre is nowhere to be found to play back music, and with no floor covering for the stage, it's decided that a run-through of the show is not possible at this point. There's no air-conditioning and it's frightfully hot inside anyway, so we decide to wait until Tuesday to do a run-through.

Before our show, the client arranges for a bit of publicity. We get a few of the dancers in costume, pile into a van, and show up at the gate of a local elementary school exactly as the school is getting out! We're mobbed by children and their parents wanting fliers advertising the performance from us!

Putting down the substitute marley
Back to the theatre

Catching the bus to the theatre

Full House

It's a full house for our first performance!

dancing in China

Tuesday, July 4 - Our First Performance

Many of us are starting to run out of Chinese money. Stores here won't accept American dollars, as they fear it may be counterfeit, and we haven't found any that will accept credit cards either. This is pretty much a cash only city! We've found a few ATM machines but they don't seem to be able to connect to American networks to verify withdrawals from our checking accounts. However, the ATM machines will give cash advances against American Express cards, so those of us with American Express are in luck.

Later that afternoon, we go to the theatre. The props still haven't arrived from Beijing, and the audio person at the theatre has brought in a DVD player, which won't play our CDs, so we have to wait while everybody scrambles around to find a player. After a short mount of time, he arrives back with a DCD player and we do a partial run with music, but without the props. The substitute Marley seems to be holding up OK, so we head back to the hotel to get ready for the performance. As the bus is leaving the theatre, a truck pulls in. We cross our fingers and hope it's our props. We have a full performance in less than two hours and we've not seen our props yet!

The props we're using you can see in other pictures on the site here, and consists of a large platform with stairs on each end and two "Round Things", as we affectionately call them. These were too large to ship to China, so we sent technical specs and drawings to have them duplicated here. We were hoping to get some serious rehearsal time on them in case they were different from the originals so the dancers would be comfortable on them. We cross our fingers and hope they're right!

We rush to get costumes and makeup together at the hotel, and then rush back to the theatre. Without a complete run through, without working with the props, without a cue-to-cue with the light and sound person, we hold our breath, open the curtain and hit "play" on the DCD player.

We've been told to expect reserved audiences for our performances. We've experienced this before in Singapore where our host told us that if they just stood there and watched without walking off, then they liked it. It's tough when you're used to being able to get folks to clap along, make noise and such as the dancers are used to feeding off the energy of the audience. Not feeling this connection can be rather disconcerting. The audience is actually enjoying the show very much, but is difficult for us to tell because of the cultural differences.

Things go pretty well the first half of the show, however, when it's time for the intermission, we're suddenly surprised by the news that shows here typically don't have an intermission, and the audience will think the show is over and leave. We scramble and the announcer that introduced us takes Joshua out in front of the audience and has some fun with him just long enough for everybody to make the change to start the second act. Without the intermission, the dancers push hard to make it through the rest of the show. It's extremely hot in the theatre, and we have problems with dancers passing out due to the heat before the end of the show! As we perform the last number, the music for bows is about to start, and the announcer walks out and tells everybody that it's over, and the audience clears completely out while we're performing our bows! We never got to the encore! It's probably for the best though, as entire company is ready to collapse from dancing in the heat with no fans or air conditioning.

Later that evening, Dale and I hold a meeting with Ema and Mr. Wong. We ask them to let us think about shortening the performance in this particular venue due to the conditions in the theatre.

Magill's birthday

Magill's birthday!

Picture with the client

Picture with the client after the show

Tuesday, July 5 - Revising a Show on the Fly

It's Magill's 16th birthday! LC brings in a beautiful (tasty too!) birthday cake during lunch for her.

After lunch, we're told that we can change the lineup for the show. It's explained that audiences are used to having a number or two, then the announcer talks about what's coming up next, another number or two, then the announcer again, and so on. Dale and I work out the order, make sure costume changes work and we head back to the theatre for a partial run through to get the dancers used to the new lineup.

I have an amazing admiration for our dancers. This evening, when we hit "play" on the CD player, they are dancing to a new lineup that was just handed to them. The announcer hasn't seen it before either, and Ema has to translate to him what we're doing. We're basically winging the performance this evening. Between every few numbers, the announcer will explain to the audience what's going on. This gives the dancers a little more time for some of their quick changes, and Dale, now taking the role of goofy mime, will run out and chase the announcer off stage when the dancers are ready to begin the number. We hold our breath again and start the show. Except for a few small glitches here and there between the timing of the announcer and dancers getting changed, which Dale covers with comic bits, the show goes off very well and the audience is much more responsive. Dale and the announcer have an interesting time together out on stage. Since Dale speaks no Chinese, she has no idea what he's saying, and Dale is being very unpredictable, so the announcer has no idea what she's going to do next. The children in the front of the theatre are howling with laughter at several points, so it must be working.

We return to the hotel feeling pretty good about the show. Despite the heat in the theatre, everybody is happy.

Announcer with Josh

We have one long costume change and the announcer needs to take some extra time. He pulls Joshua out on stage and ask him to improvise while he plays a Chinese folk song.

Thursday, July 6 - Our Final Show in Laiyang

Everyone sleeps in a bit, but it's still hard to stay in bed much later than 8:00 or so due to construction on a building attached to the hotel. A small group of us decide to go out shopping for a bit, plus Dale and I have no toilet paper in our room and need to go to the grocery store to purchase some moist wipes. (Note: If you're going to China, bring toilet paper! Don't expect there to by any in the bathrooms you encounter!) The citizens of Laiyang have become accustom to seeing us and we're not attracting the crowd that followed us the first day we were here, though folks are still taking pictures with their cell phones and every so often younger people will come up to us and ask to let their friends take pictures with us.

Our revised show from the evening before came up just a bit short, so Dale and I revise the lineup once again to add two pieces. We return to the theatre for our last performance here. Despite throwing more changes at the dancers at the last second, things go well. This is a tougher audience than the evening before though, and Dale works extremely hard to get some sort of reaction from them, without too much success. This is going to be very difficult for the dancers to get used to, but they have to learn to give 110% regardless of the reaction from the audience. It's not that the members of the audience are enjoying the show any less than the most enthusiastic American audiences. It's just that the reaction is different.

During the past few days, we've been discussing our luggage issues, and the dancers are told that we will be shipping items back to Beijing that they no longer wish to carry. Boxes are brought in the next day and some of them pack up over a suitcase full to send back! I don't think we'll ever have to tell anybody to pack light after this trip!