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Directors Statement

When I was a child during the Cultural Revolution, all books other than those that pertained directly to the Revolution were banned, presumably ridding the country of feudalistic and foreign ideas. My father had a friend in Changsha, a former librarian, who sometimes looked after me. One day, while hiding from gunshots in the street, I found a box under her bed, and in it was the Chinese classic Xi You Ji (Journey to the West). I was about eight years old and so I could only understand about half of the classical characters in which it was written, but it captivated me completely. To me it was a magical tale about a little monkey who could transform himself into different creatures and conquer all the obstacles in his life. It instantly transported me out of a horrible situation.

When I moved to the United States in 1987, I saw Star Wars and heard about stories like Lord of the Rings, and I wished everyone could know of the wildly imaginative Chinese story about the Monkey King and the Journey to the West. I never really forgot about this idea, and when I spoke to Jean Luc Choplin at Théâtre du Châtelet about it three years ago, he immediately commissioned me to direct my own vision of Journey to the West for Châtelet. Then Alex Poots from Manchester International Festival introduced me to Damon Albarn and Jamie Hewlett. I invited them to go to China with me to experience the beauty and traditions in rural life and see the tremendous changes in cities like Beijing. Like pilgrims, we climbed the sacred mountains to see Buddhist monuments. In the end, we decided to collaborate on this fantastical spectacle.

I spent over two years trying to find the perfect circus company, martial artists and performers in China. I wanted to engage a young generation of Chinese performers who would be open to adapting their traditional skills to a totally new form. This production, like the book itself, is a mix of reality and illusion. The “West” in the title is India, for the tale is set in China and tells the story of a legendary Buddhist pilgrimage that took place during the T’ang Dynasty (though the book dates from 1592 in the Ming period). The main character, the Monkey King, protects a devoted Buddhist monk on a quest to bring Holy Scriptures back to China to save the country from decadence. The subject of much scholarship, the book is often seen as an allegory that mixes Buddhist and traditional Chinese religious Taoist thought, and a critique of society. Our Monkey: Journey to the West retells this 400-year-old story in the hope of bringing it into the 21st century for new audiences around the world.

Chen Shi-Zheng


Synopsis

SCENE 1
Birth of Monkey and His Quest for Immortality

In a mythical time, on the Mountain of Flower and Fruit, there is a great stone. One day, the stone explodes, expelling an egg. The egg hatches, and Monkey comes into the world. He bows to the four corners of the universe, and then exuberantly runs about, jumping and laughing, and leaps into a waterfall in a bamboo forest. He is obsessed with seeking immortality and magical power, and travels over five continents to find a teacher. Deep in the Mountain of Heart and Mind he finds Subodhi, a Taoist master, from whom he learns how to somersault on a magical cloud that can carry him 180,000 miles, and the art of transforming himself into anything he wants. Subodhi gives him the name Sun Wu Kong: the Monkey with the Realization of Emptiness.


SCENE 2
Crystal Palace of the Eastern Sea and the Iron Rod

Monkey dives into the Eastern Sea, where magnificent sea creatures amuse him. He comes upon the Crystal Palace, home to the Old Dragon King. Monkey boasts of his prowess and requests a weapon great enough to equal his fighting ability. The Old Dragon King offers him a magic iron rod so powerful that it holds down the ocean floor and so magical that it is capable of changing from the size of a needle to the size of a mountain. The Old Dragon King is cowed into also handing over his own golden helmet, armor and shoes in the hope that the Monkey King will not destroy his Crystal Palace.


SCENE 3
Heavenly Peach Banquet

Monkey travels to Heaven to demand recognition of his astounding power. There, seven fairy maidens are busily preparing a birthday party for the Queen Mother of Heaven. Monkey is incensed to find out that he has not been invited along with the gods and sages, and wreaks havoc. He drinks up all the celestial wine and eats all of the heavenly peaches, each of which takes 9,000 years to ripen and bestows an extra thousand years of life. He fights with all the gods and sages, wins every battle, and vociferously proclaims himself a Great Sage Equal to Heaven. Utterly at a loss amidst the mayhem, the Queen Mother of Heaven begs the Great Buddha to step in and get the Monkey King under control.


SCENE 4
Buddha’s Great Palm

Buddha presents Monkey with a dare: he must demonstrate his abilities by flying out of the Buddha’s palm. Monkey cockily leaps onto Buddha’s palm and does one of his great cloud somersaults into the sky, landing in front of five huge pillars. He defaces two of the pillars and somersaults back, only to find that Buddha is furious... the “pillars” are in fact his fingers! Monkey has not even left Buddha's hand at all. Before Monkey has a chance to utter a word, Buddha turns his palm over, creating the Mount of the Five Fingers and imprisoning the Monkey King within until further notice.


SCENE 5
The Pilgrims

Five hundred years have passed and the Monkey King is still imprisoned. Buddha sends the goddess Guan Yin on a mission to find a true believer to journey to India – the West – to bring the Holy Scriptures to China. She chooses Tripitaka, a young, handsome, devoted Buddhist, and then enlists the Monkey King, the Dragon Prince (who is changed into a white horse for the journey), Pigsy and Sandy to protect him, offering in return the chance of redemption for evils committed in their past lives.


SCENE 6
The White Skeleton Demon

It seems that everyone along the route has heard that they can achieve immortality by eating the flesh of Tripitaka. The White Skeleton Demon adopts a number of disguises in an attempt to trap Tripitaka for this purpose, but Monkey sees through her disguises with his magical vision, and smites the White Skeleton Demon dead. Tripitaka is horrified by his violence and expels Monkey from the group.


SCENE 7
The Spider Women

Without Monkey, the travelers enter the Cave of Spider Women, where the queen is determined to seduce Tripitaka. While she and her little spiders are binding him in their silk, Pigsy is happily distracted by the sexy girls, leaving Tripitaka vulnerable. Sandy rushes to find the Monkey King, who hesitantly comes back to protect Tripitaka, freeing him from the spiders’ web. Pigsy must pay for his negligence – Monkey commands him to pull the White Horse as they resume their pilgrimage West.


SCENE 8
Volcano City

The travelers approach a volcano surrounded by a parched land of ash. The only way to cross over is to extinguish the fire of the volcano using a magic fan belonging to the Iron Fan Princess. So fierce is she that she nearly succeeds in resisting Monkey’s power, but with help from the goddess Guan Yin he prevails. He outwits the Princess by transforming himself – first into a bee, which she swallows, and then into her estranged husband, whom she desires – and claims the fan. The Princess sends her soldiers after Monkey, but he and Pigsy and Sandy fend them off, extinguish the fire, and the pilgrims go safely on their way.


SCENE 9
Paradise

Tripitaka and his disciples finally arrive in Paradise where they are given the Holy Buddhist Scriptures. Tripitaka and his disciples are rewarded for their courage and perseverance. Tripitaka becomes Buddha of Purest Merit. Pigsy becomes the Janitor of the Altars, able to fly all over the world eating the offerings left on the altars. Sandy becomes a Golden-Bodied Arhat, the highest grade of noble person. The White Horse is returned to his former life as the Dragon Prince. And the Monkey King becomes Buddha Victorious in Strife.



Characters


The Monkey King
The Monkey KingHatched from an egg that emerged from a stone struck by lightning, the Monkey King gains immortality after studying with a Taoist master, who names him Sun Wu Kong, or Monkey with the Realization of Emptiness, and teaches him various kinds of magic. With his phenomenal kungfu fighting abilities, he leads a revolt against Heaven, for which he is imprisoned under Buddha’s palm for 500 years. The goddess Guan Yin, the divine messenger of Buddha, requests his release so that he can accompany and protect the monk Tripitaka on his journey to the West (India) to obtain Holy Buddhist Scriptures. Prone to violence, he ultimately redeems himself and attains enlightenment.

Tripitaka
TripitakaTripitaka is a handsome, devout Buddhist monk, reincarnated from a golden cicada. He is selected by Guan Yin to undertake a journey to India to receive Holy Buddhist Scriptures that will save China from its slide into decadence. His religious name was Hsuan-tsang, Supreme Priest of China, but Guan Yin changes it to Tripitaka, the same name as the Scriptures themselves, when he embarks on the great journey. He is pure, but defenceless, and in serious need of protection.

Pigsy
PigsyPigsy, once the General of the Heavenly Reeds in the Heavenly River, is a character of lusts: for food, women and wine. One day, drunk, he flirted with a goddess at a sacred banquet; his punishment was to be demoted from Heaven and sent out into the world. Unfortunately, his reincarnation happened in the wrong way and he accidentally got into a pig’s body. So now he cleans up garbage, eats out of dumpsters, and is persuaded by Guan Yin to redeem himself and accompany Tripitaka on his journey to the West in order to fare better in the next incarnation.

Sandy
SandyAlso known as the Sand Monk, Sandy was formerly the Curtain-Raising General for the supreme Jade Emperor. He once shattered a crystal chalice during a sacred banquet, and was punished by having to endure a flying sword poking him in the side every seventh day. He was sentenced to death, but received a stay of execution from Guan Yin, and was instead banished to a river of sand. There he became extremely melancholy and depressed and began to devour people to divert himself. He takes the opportunity to redeem himself by becoming a disciple of Tripitaka and forsakes his predatory ways.

The Dragon Prince
The Dragon PrinceThe Dragon Prince is the son of the King of the Western Ocean. One day, playing with matches, he set the palace on fire. Magic pearls were destroyed, and his father accused him of starting a revolution. He was hung up in the sky by the Jade Emperor, awaiting execution. Guan Yin arranges an acquittal, and The Dragon Prince is turned into the White Horse, the beast that carries Tripitaka on the journey to the West.


Biographies


Chen Shi-Zheng

Chen Shi-Zheng Monkey KingChen Shi-Zheng is a China-born, New York-based director, choreographer, singer, and actor. As a child in Changsha, Hunan during the Cultural Revolution, he was taken under the wing of traditional funeral singers, who were among some of the great masters of Chinese opera. He became a leading young opera actor, performing until his mid-20s in many productions throughout China, and simultaneously recorded albums of folksongs and contemporary pop music. He immigrated to the United States in 1987, and has since established a crossover career in which he explores his own artistic expression that transcends an East/West divide and erases the boundaries between music, theatre, dance and film. In 2000, Mr. Chen was awarded the title Chevalier des Arts et des Lettres by the French Ministry of Culture.

His landmark 19-hour production of The Peony Pavilion was hailed as one of the most important theatrical events of the 20th century. The Peony Pavilion premiered as the centrepiece of Lincoln Center Festival in New York and at Festival d’Automne in Paris, and toured to Piccolo Teatro in Milan, Perth International Arts Festival, Aarhus Festival in Denmark, Berlin Festival, Vienna Festival and at the Esplanade Centre in Singapore. It has been filmed for home video distribution by RM Associates.
Mr Chen’s other directing credits include a trilogy of contemporary theatre works based on Chinese classics – Orphan of Zhao in two versions (Lincoln Center Theater & Lincoln Center Festival), Snow in June (American Repertory Theatre), and Peach Blossom Fan (RedCat); Dido and Aeneas, The Flying Dutchman (Spoleto Festival USA); Night Banquet (Festival d’Automne à Paris), Cosi fan tutte (Aix-en Provence Festival and Théâtre des Champs Elysées, Paris), Orfeo (English National Opera London) and The Bacchae (China National Beijing Opera Company, Hong Kong International Arts Festival and Athens Festival).

Current projects include The Coronation of Poppea for English National Opera, part of a complete Monteverdi cycle, and The Bonesetter’s Daughter for San Francisco Opera. His first feature film Dark Matter, which picked up the Alfred P Sloan prize at 2007’s Sundance Film Festival will be released later this year.

Damon Albarn

Damon Albarn Monkey KingBorn in London in 1968, Damon Albarn is one of the UK’s most influential and consistently interesting musicians. He is the lead singer of Blur, whose debut album Leisure (1991) announced the arrival of a major force in British music. Seven albums in, Think Tank (2002) showcased a band as inventive as ever, still finding new fans and winning awards around the world.

Damon Albarn is also the co-creator, with Jamie Hewlett, of cartoon supergroup Gorillaz. Their unique combination of creative innovation, classic tunes and arresting visuals caught the public imagination in a big way; their eponymous first album sold more than 5 million copies around the world, with sales of critically-acclaimed second album Demon Days exceeding even those of Gorillaz.

During a trip to Mali with Oxfam in 2000, Albarn recorded more than 40 hours of music with local musicians, sessions that formed the basis of the sublime Mali Music album and live gigs. Mali Music was the first release on Honest Jon’s Records, the west London-based label Damon helped set up to showcase international musical talent. Also released on Honest Jon’s was Democrazy (2003) an album of 4-track demos recorded while on tour in America with Blur. Film soundtrack work includes Ravenous (with Michael Nyman), Ordinary Decent Criminal and 101 Reykjavik.

January 2007 saw the release of The Good, The Bad and The Queen, a collaboration with Paul Simonon (The Clash), Simon Tong (The Verve) and Tony Allen (Fela Kuti/Africa 70). Begun in Nigeria, finished in Devon and Ladbroke Grove, the record is a hymn to London and all its possibilities. The band are currently appearing at summer festivals around Europe.

Jamie Hewlett

Jamie Hewlett Monkey KingJamie Hewlett was born in 1968, the Year of the Monkey. He was brought up in Horsham, West Sussex and went to Art College in Worthing. Creator of comic book military chick Tank Girl and co-creator of turbo-boosted gang band Gorillaz, Hewlett has forged a distinctive visual style and a unique place in British pop culture. His characters are edgy, slightly subversive antiheroes. He is influenced and inspired by Chuck Jones, zombies and Terry Gilliam.

Tank Girl was his first major success, a character he created for Deadline Magazine in the late 1980’s. A genuine cult heroine, beautiful and carrying all her own weapons, the Tank Girl phenomenon took her from the pages of the magazine to a starring role in her very own feature film and led to Hewlett spending too much time in Hollywood.
In the late 1990’s Hewlett met Damon Albarn and the Gorillaz concept was born sometime after; the band’s self-titled debut was released in 2001. A cartoon combo with music by Albarn and visuals by Hewlett, Gorillaz consists of four totally disparate but wildly talented musicians. The release of Gorillaz' difficult second album Demon Days (2005) cemented the band's reputation for musical and visual innovation. Their ever more inventive videos and sublime live shows – all designed and directed by Hewlett – gathered critical praise and commercial success around the world. In May 2006, Jamie won the Design Museum's Designer of the Year Award for his work with Gorillaz.

Hewlett works from his own design and animation company, Zombie Flesh Eaters, based in West London.

André de Ridder

André de Ridder Monkey KingAndré de Ridder has appeared with many of the UK’s leading orchestras, and remains a frequent guest at Manchester’s Hallé Orchestra where he held the post of Assistant Conductor 2004-2006. In Germany, he has worked with such orchestras as NDR Radiophilharmonie Hannover, the Deutsche Kammerphilharmonie Bremen, Kammerakademie Potsdam, and at the Komische Oper.

2007/08 sees him continue a strong association with Sinfonia ViVA, and he makes a number of notable debuts, including those with BBC Symphony Orchestra, Malmö Symfoni Orkester and Mozarteum Salzburg. He returns to the BBC Proms, where he made his debut in 2006; this time he will conduct the BBC Philharmonic Orchestra in HK Gruber’s ‘Aerial’, with Håkan Hardenberger as soloist.

De Ridder has formed particularly close connections with composers such as Saariaho, Hallgrimsson, Judith Weir and Henze. In the current season, he returns to the Philharmonia Orchestra’s ‘Music of Today’ series, and one of his appearances with BBC Symphony Orchestra this season will be as part of their focus on Judith Weir, at London’s Barbican Centre.

André de Ridder made his debut at English National Opera with the world premiere run of Gerald Barry’s opera The Bitter Tears of Petra von Kant, leading to a re-invitation to conduct The Marriage of Figaro. He has made a substantial impression at this year’s Grange Park Opera festival and has been re-invited for future performances. At the Salzburg Festival 2003, he worked on the world premiere production of Henze's L'Upupa oder Der Triumph der Sohnesliebe, and at the Teatro Real in Madrid in December 2004, he was Musical Director for a highly acclaimed production of Henze’s El Cimarrón.

David Greenspan

David Greenspan Monkey KingAndré de Ridder has appeared with many of the UK’s leading orchestras, and remains a frequent guest at Manchester’s Hallé Orchestra where he held the post of Assistant Conductor 2004-2006. In Germany, he has worked with such orchestras as NDR Radiophilharmonie Hannover, the Deutsche Kammerphilharmonie Bremen, Kammerakademie Potsdam, and at the Komische Oper.

2007/08 sees him continue a strong association with Sinfonia ViVA, and he makes a number of notable debuts, including those with BBC Symphony Orchestra, Malmö Symfoni Orkester and Mozarteum Salzburg. He returns to the BBC Proms, where he made his debut in 2006; this time he will conduct the BBC Philharmonic Orchestra in HK Gruber’s ‘Aerial’, with Håkan Hardenberger as soloist.

De Ridder has formed particularly close connections with composers such as Saariaho, Hallgrimsson, Judith Weir and Henze. In the current season, he returns to the Philharmonia Orchestra’s ‘Music of Today’ series, and one of his appearances with BBC Symphony Orchestra this season will be as part of their focus on Judith Weir, at London’s Barbican Centre.

André de Ridder made his debut at English National Opera with the world premiere run of Gerald Barry’s opera The Bitter Tears of Petra von Kant, leading to a re-invitation to conduct The Marriage of Figaro. He has made a substantial impression at this year’s Grange Park Opera festival and has been re-invited for future performances. At the Salzburg Festival 2003, he worked on the world premiere production of Henze's L'Upupa oder Der Triumph der Sohnesliebe, and at the Teatro Real in Madrid in December 2004, he was Musical Director for a highly acclaimed production of Henze’s El Cimarrón.

Cast Credits


Monkey King (A Cast)
Fei Yang

Monkey King (B Cast)
Yang Fukai

Tripitaka / Fairy Maiden
Yao Ningning

Pigsy
Xu Kejia

Sandy
He Zijun

Dragon Princess / Queen Mother / Guan Yin
Jiu Ruhan

White Skeleton Demon, Fairy Maiden, Flying Fish, Princess Iron Fan
Tang Ling

Subodhi, Great Buddha
Liu Chang

Spider Woman, Fairy Maiden, Flying Fish
Zeng Li

Dragon King / White Skeleton Demon as Old Man / Old Man
Wang Wei

Stage Team Credits


Conception and Stage Direction
Chen Shi-Zheng

Composer
Damon Albarn

Visual Concept, Costume, Design and Animation
Jamie Hewlett

Conductor
André De Ridder

Dramaturgy
David Greenspan

Lighting Designer
Nick Richings

Sound Designer
Barry Bartlett

Martial Arts Choreographer
Zhang Jinghua

Aerial Silk Choreographer
Caroline Vexler

Make up and Prosthetics
Bertrand Dorset

Stage Manager
Lisa Iacucci

Artistic Collaborator and Personal Assistant to Chen Shi-Zheng
Kathrin Veser

Visual Design Producer
Cara Speller

Visual Design Assistant
Kersti Bergstrom

Set Design Collaborator
Patrick Watkinson

Scenographer Assistant
Corinna Gassauer

Costume Design Collaborator
Gregory Nelson

Costume Design Assistant
Jérôme Bourdin

Video and Projection Supervisor
Richard Turner

Produced & Created by the Theatre Du Chatelet, Paris in Co-production with Manchester International Festival and The State Opera House, Berlin (Staatsoper Den Linden).