'Princess Zhaojun': Li Yugang leads song and dance drama on another world tour
By Sun Wei
Singer and performer Li Yugang has presented his new version of the song and dance drama "Princess Zhaojun" in Beijing, marking the international premiere of the stage epic. Well-known for his cross-dressing roles on stage, Li once again wowed the audience with his stunning performance at the Tianqiao Performing Arts Center, as part of the 19th Meet in Beijing Arts Festival.
It's a grand musical that incorporates the music and dance styles of Inner Mongolia and the Han Dynasty (206 B.C.-AD 220), as well as gorgeous costumes and stage effects, all highlighted by Li's magically sweet and melodious voice and graceful acting.
"Princess Zhaojun" is based on the legend of Wang Zhaojun, an ancient Chinese beauty from the Han Dynasty around 2,000 years ago. Li portrays the classic image of Zhaojun, who volunteered to marry the ruler of a powerful nomadic group on the then-border of northern China, to maintain peace between the two sides.
Li Yugang performs on stage. /Photo courtesy of Meet in Beijing Arts Festival

Li Yugang performs on stage. /Photo courtesy of Meet in Beijing Arts Festival

"Wang Zhaojun is one of my favorite roles. She left her hometown at a young age and never returned. She and I somehow share the same loneliness and homesickness. Wang represents a spirit of goodwill to bridge different cultures, even at the expense of her own interests. The drama combines traditional Chinese music and dancing. When we bring it to the world stage, I believe it will help the audience abroad get closer to Chinese culture," said Li.
Working with Max Lee as the director, Li has spent six years preparing the updated version of the drama, which sees him perform about 30 original songs and dances using Peking Opera techniques, such as "water sleeves." 
The efforts paid off on Friday, as the show's debut touched the audience's hearts with the great story and poetic performances.
Li Yugang on stage. /Photo courtesy of Meet in Beijing Arts Festival

Li Yugang on stage. /Photo courtesy of Meet in Beijing Arts Festival

Li said the show marks both a conclusion of his endeavors in the past few years and a new beginning for his continuous artistic pursuit.
"The audience's enthusiasm touched me a lot," Li said. "I heard they sang along with me as if they were watching a concert, though it's a theater drama. It's a positive result of our efforts in the past six years. Meanwhile, it marks a fresh beginning on my journey to pursue art. I belong to the stage, and I belong to the arts. I know the biggest difficulty in the future is to make a breakthrough beyond my current self, and I will never stop trying to achieve that."
"Princess Zhaojun" is staged in Beijing until May 1. It will tour around other cities in China before going global this year, heading to the United States, Canada, Australia and countries involved in the Belt and Road Initiative, including Thailand and Singapore.