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May 30, 2010

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Veteran showman guides Shanghai dreaming tribute

AS Mayor Han Zheng lit up the Pavilion Day celebrations for the Shanghai Corporate Pavilion at the Expo earlier this month, the first stage of the culmination of US showman Don Mischer's Shanghai dreaming was complete.

The doyen of some of the world's biggest public events and TV specials, Mischer and his multinational team had been planning two years for "what this day might be like," a 45-minute show inaugurating the 4,000-square-meter Dream Cube pavilion in Zone D of the Puxi section.

The show was conceived, assembled and produced by a crew of about 80 local staff and four or five experts from the United States and Australia. They managed the theatrical performances of 100 dancers, 60 drummers, the 120-member Corporate Chorus and orchestral accompaniment.

Comparatively small in relation to Mischer's other shows -- five Superbowl half-time shows, the opening of Euro Disney, last year's Emmy Awards, the 100th anniversary show of Carnegie Hall and US President Barack Obama's pre-inauguration concert at the Lincoln Memorial -- it nevertheless is a creative high point in his CV and the completion of a career circle.

As would be expected of a hi-tech pavilion sponsored by some of the largest state-owned enterprises in the city, the show was big on the Shanghai story, artistically evoking the path from the past and looking to the future. The symbolism was strong.

"The butterfly is in many ways a symbol of this pavilion because it is a carrier of dreams. The main message is that we are really going to have to work together to solve the city's challenges in the future," said the Texas-born Mischer.

"All the interactive things in it are designed so that people get results when they do things in groups and work together.

The Shanghai journey that unfolded under Mischer and his team's guidance was introduced and hosted by a grandfather and his granddaughter. The little girl talked about the butterfly being a carrier of dreams in Chinese mythology, 100 young children swarmed onto stage holding long, bending poles with butterflies on top and the performer Sa Dingding, in an elegant gown with a butterfly-wing cutout, sang "Big Tree, Little Tree," a metaphorical song about growing up and passing the torch.

Fashion models portrayed the look and feeling of the 1920-50 era and the ensuing decades were depicted by dancers choreographed doing labor-related activities to songs like "We Workers Have Strength."

The period 1978 to the present evoked the creeping influence of the West through a big TV set and Chinese women playing volleyball, then a Bund setting for the performance number "Walk to a New Generation" segued to the conclusion with a rap number called "Love Shanghai."

The finale depicted the Dream Cube representing the future and introduced the character "Professor Butterfly," played by well-known actress Xu Jinglei, who flew around the stage before setting down to explain, in Mischer's words, "the dream cube is a technical marvel but without the encouragement of the human spirit its potential will never be realized."

Mischer has been overseeing projects in China, principally Shanghai, for "the past six to seven years and feel at home here." He regards himself as "one cog in a really big wheel" in the Dream Cube whose overall conceptualization and design was managed by Edwin Schlossberg, husband of former US President John Kennedy's daughter Caroline.

"China's a very exciting place to work but Shanghai is one of the most exciting cities in the world and it changes every time I come back," he said. "I love the way everything is decorated and lit, with lights underneath the freeways and light used to make statements creatively by building owners and architects. The city is a daily performance in itself."

Los Angeles resident Mischer, now in his mid-60s, earned his China credentials as producer of the Special Olympics in Shanghai in 2007.

"It was one of the first true co-productions between Western and Chinese creative teams and it was really difficult," he said. "Most American shows come here almost completely self-contained and it's the same with Chinese shows I've seen in the United States.

"In the Special Olympics, we hammered it out together, through language difficulties, different approaches and moments of great frustration but, man, we really bonded.

"We had Chinese choreographers, composers and production designers, and many heated discussions and arguments helped us find the right path," he said.

As for Mischer's China wheel turning full circle, he directed a show in 1978 at the Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C., for the visit of former leader Deng Xiaoping to the United States. His commitment to the Dream Cube covers an eight-minute nightly show for the duration of the Expo and he will regularly return to Shanghai to check its progress.

In the meantime, the veteran of opening events at the centennial Olympics in Atlanta in 1996 and the Salt Lake City Winter Olympics in 2002, has set off on his next project, a TV special for the popular singer Taylor Swift. "You get addicted to the pressure of doing this stuff and I love my work," he said.


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