To bring to stage the story of China spanning 2,200 years, from the first Qin dynasty to modern times, is no easy feat.
The Phoenix Wushu Academy, which recently moved from Chandler to Gilbert, is attempting to do just that.
Seventy of the school’s students under, the age of 18, will dance their way through “Dynasty: A Martial Arts & Dance Epic” Nov. 17, at Chandler Center for the Arts.
The Qin Dynasty began in 221 B.C., and was during the construction of the Great Wall of China.
It follows 10 major time periods, including the Golden Age of the Han Dynasty, when martial arts flourished; the Song Dynasty, paper money and gun powder emerged; and ends in modern China, where martial arts, dances and ancient art forms have become sporting and cultural activities passed to younger generations.
Scriptwriter Jane Ho co-directs with Bonnie Fu and Andrew Ho.
Dynasty promises to be a rich spectacle of entertainment where dynasties rise and fall, battles are won and lost and adventures unravel.
In essence, it is a treasury of Chinese history and culture, which is performed without dialogue but instead with Kung Fu (also known as Wushu, a modern form of traditional Chinese martial arts), dance, music and acting.
“However far we progress into our future, it is our past that defines who we once were and reminds us of where we came from,” said Jane Ho, who teaches Wushu and piano at the school.
“We believe it is our duty to bring awareness of our cultural heritage and encourage the people around us to also appreciate the breathtaking history and culture of China.”
Jane Ho called the show the school’s “most elaborate” production so far.
“Dynasty is a visually stunning show that combines advanced technological moving backgrounds as well as beautiful staging and on-set props,” she said.
As visual director, she has worked hard the last three months to bring to life every scene in Dynasty. She has even collaborated with international visual effect artists to create some of the scenes.
The production uses 250 sets of costumes. Head of wardrobe, Chloe Cheng, who has handled similar shows for six years, has custom-ordered the costumes from factories in China that specialize in creating realistic ancient Chinese costumes.
The show is also an opportunity to listen to ancient Chinese music.
“Throughout the show, there will be traditional Chinese music that varies from epic to sorrowful, depending on the scene,” Jane Ho said. “Since it is traditional Chinese music, most of the songs in the show were composed many years back and have been passed on from one generation to the next.”
The performing arts school, which was established nearly a decade ago by Andrew Ho and Bonnie Fu, moved to a larger facility in Gilbert.
Currently, about 100 students are enrolled and they come from every city in the East Valley as well as parts of the San Tan Valley, Peoria, Glendale and Phoenix.
Intake isn’t limited to those of Chinese ethnicity, however, and it welcomes anyone who would like to study the country’s heritage.
“We are blessed to have this facility because it offers a professional and spacious environment for our students to train in,” Jane Ho said.
“I like that I get to perform with other people and get to play characters that are very different,” said Elise Yeung, 11, of Chandler, who has studied there for five years. “Even though training takes a lot of hard work and practice, I enjoy being able to perform in both Wushu and dance in Dynasty.”
Elise performs three roles, like Wu Tang tai-chi master, Ming Dynasty assassin-in-training and a Chinese ethnic tribal dancer.
“For Wushu, I will do hand forms and tai-chi and also use weapons like the straight sword and broad sword,” she said. “I will also do different styles of Chinese dances; some of them use long ribbons and tambourines.”
The school is home to some top athletes that are currently in the US Wushu Team, representing America in the Pan American and World Championships, Jane Ho said. They include Song Tian Ou and Allyson Huang, who have trained there since the beginning of their Wushu studies.
“The sport of wushu entertains the idea of pushing past your limits almost to your breaking point,”16-year-old Allyson said. “It requires a deep understanding of the borderline between ambition and exhaustion.”
Allyson, a Chandler resident, is a soloist in Dynasty and performs several roles with an assortment of weapons and styles, each reflective of a specific dynasty.
One such weapon is a straight sword from the Qing Dynasty, a long, thin blade without curved edges.
“I gracefully slice my sword through the air while sprinting and leaping across the stage. My quick, light movements wow the audience. The brightly colored silk uniforms represent the silk clothing often worn by nobility in Ancient China,” she said.
Allyson said she enjoyed the “hospitable environment” that the school provides.
“Families are able to create and maintain strong bonds between one another,” she said. “We support each other with humble cheers and shouts of encouragement. They teach discipline, moral values and respect for others.”
In addition to Wushu, the school teaches Sanda, (Chinese kickboxing), Tai-chi, Chinese dance, piano and linguistic Chinese studies.
One of the school’s missions is to preserve and promote Chinese culture and the arts because some of its ancient art forms and customs are fading away. An example is the ancient ink painting skill known as “Guo Hua.”
The East Valley is home to a large Chinese-American community, with a steady rise in population over the span of a few years. Arizona has an estimated 200,000-plus community and it’s growing, according to the school.