Sunday, November 30, 2008

Monkey: Journey to the West

Friday night, the Irishman took me on a secret date. He listened to all the hints I dropped about wanting to see Monkey: Journey to the West, a Chinese opera realized and designed by Damon Albarn and Jamie Hewlett of Gorillaz fame, so escorted me to the O2 in Greenwich for a performance.

The show was amazing. It was equal parts opera, acrobat, martial art, video, and installation. The mixture of art forms was really innovative and exciting, and it was the kind of show you didn't want to end.

The story of Monkey is a Chinese folktale about a cheeky monkey who redeems himself by escorting a young pilgrim on a voyage to the holy land after angering the gods. He and a few other pilgrims encounter challenges and characters along the way. When they reach their destination, they achieve enlightenment and are made into gods themselves.

My favorite part of the show was the costumes: a horse character wore a bobbling rump with a saddle and tail, an undersea creature had layers of colored fabric swishing around, and warriors wore sweeping capes over boots and leggings.

Even the venue was designed, with a Chinese theme; situated in a circus tent next to the O2 center, the entryway had red lanterns hanging from the support beams and drawings of the characters hanging on the wall. There was a bar and restaurant, and you could get foot and back massages while you waited for the show to start.

The only thing that was disappointing was the O2 itself. The O2 is a big convention center that was built for the millenium, and subsequently made into a shopping and entertainment venue. Inside there is pretty much any store you'd want, tons of restaurants, and even a ski slope. But the thing is, it's designed to look like a street outside, with brick walkways and street lamps. The whole thing is disconcerting, but it was worth the trip through the weird twilight-zone of a shopping center to get to see Monkey.

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