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September 2, 2010

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Haibao emerges from the shadows

SHADOW play, a traditional Chinese storytelling art form, is thriving at the World Expo, thanks to a group of young people who perform the ancient drama form every day in a bid to save it from falling into decline or even extinction.

The show at the Expo site's Urban Best Practices Area every morning is so popular that visitors gathered under shelters at the open-air drama plaza despite yesterday's rain and wind brought by Typhoon Kompasu.

Shadow play, or shadow puppetry, is an art form where artists control two-dimensional puppets behind a backdrop.

With a beam of light shooting from behind the figures, the illusion of moving images is created on the front of the backdrop.

The show at the UBPA tells a famous story from a popular ancient novel, The Romance of the Three Kingdoms.

The story shows how a famous kingdom military counselor "borrowed" arrows from enemies by sending boats carrying scarecrows in the dense fog directly to the enemy's base.

He collected arrows from enemy archers who fired on the scarecrows believing they were soldiers conducting a surprise attack.

Led by Shan Jianfeng, a group of artists aged from 15 to 30 perform the story every morning but they added a new character into the show, Haibao, the popular Expo mascot.

Shan Shuyan, an 18-year-old girl from Liaoning Province, plays the role of Haibao by controlling its image behind the backdrop.

"I have to control the puppet to jump up and down all the time to give Haibao an image of a lovely and energetic child," said Shan.

She said training took almost eight months after she was selected to Haibao's puppeteer.

Shan said in the beginning she couldn't control the puppet well and Haibao looked like a child who couldn't even stand straight.

But later, after intensive training, she gradually gained control of the mascot and now she can easily make the puppet dance simply by waving her hands up and down.

Problems confronted the actors last week when temperatures on their stage soared to 50 degrees Celsius but they were not allowed to turn on the air-conditioner.

"The wind may affect the movements of the puppets," Shan explained.

Although many of her colleagues were overcome in the heat wave, the show had to go on.

"We have several backup performers backstage carry on the performance whenever we feel discomfort," Shan said.


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