To many Singaporeans, the name Li Dun (李盾) may not ring a bell even though his works have been staged internationally in more than 20 cities in South Korea, Europe, the United States and Canada. His Chinese original musical, Butterflies, which is based on a classic Chinese love tragedy between Liang Shanbo and Zhu Yingtai, has also won the special prize at the 2008 International Musical Festival in South Korea. Indeed, Professor Li Dun is considered a trailblazer for China-produced musicals, and has even dubbed by the media as the Godfather of Chinese musicals. Hence, in the SIM Performing Arts Theatre (PAT) on 20th May 2017, there was a sense of curiosity and anticipation amongst the audience as they awaited Li Dun’s arrival.
Some 250 attendees gathered at the SIM PAT to listen to Professor Li Dun share his inspiring experience in creating aesthetically-oriented musical productions from which his audiences can derive affection and pleasure. Throughout his 1.5 hours presentation, Li Dun captivated the audience by taking them on his creative journey through video excerpts of his musical performances, including Legend of the White Snake; Oriental Beauty – Xi Shi; Butterflies; Love You, Teresa; Mama, Love me Once Again!, as well as fascinating accounts of how each musical was painstakingly crafted and produced. The ever-witty raconteur also charmed the audience with heart-warming stories of personal encounters that inspired his productions, including how on 8th May 1995, when he received news of the death of Teresa Teng, he undertook to continue her legacy by producing a musical as a tribute to her. According to Professor Li, he chose Teng because he believed that Teng's music could heal and warm one's heart. "I first listened to Teng's songs when I was a teenager. I was impressed by the role she played in promoting Chinese pop music to the world," Professor Li said. "Whenever I listen to her songs, I feel like she is telling a story ... No matter if I'm happy or in pain, I feel at peace when I listen to her music." Love You, Teresa debuted in 2010 and has won numerous awards.
Professor Li also shared with the audience a quote from the renowned painter Qi Baishi that has been etched in his memory ever since he started his musical career some 29 years ago. The quote literally means "those who learn my art will prosper and those who copy my art will perish." He insists he will never be a copycat and will continually aim to infuse the charm of musicals into his ideas, create his own original productions, and set the standards for all Chinese musicals.
Many in the audience were clearly touched by Professor Li’s sincerity and authenticity. Even a four-year old girl was brought to tears by a touching scene from the musical Mama, Love me Once again, which deals with family relations and the love between a mother and son, and has won acclaim from both society and the media.
Professor Li ended the talk with a Q&A session with the audience. An especially pertinent question was on how balance could be struck between commercial gains, and artistic education for future generations. According to Professor Li, one of the key reasons for the success of his musicals is his ability as a producer to balance commercial and artistic demands. A good producer is able to identify a good story that will sell tickets and at the same time maintain high artistic and technical standards. Not only will this ensure a healthy budget for the production, it will also allow for affordable tickets to contribute to the aesthetic education of teenagers and youth.
This talk was co-organised by Centre for Chinese Studies@SUSS, New Horizon Music Society, and Hua Xia Philharmonic Society.
(From left) Associate Professor Foo Tee Tuan, SUSS; Mr Li Lie Gang, President, Hua Xia Philharmonic Society; Prof Li Dun; Mrs Kuo Effie Lo, Founding President & Advisor, New Horizon Music Society; Prof Eddie Kuo, SUSS.
(From left) Mr Li Lie Gang, President, Hua Xia hilharmonic Society; Prof Li Dun; Mrs Kuo Effie Lo, Founding President & Advisor, New Horizon Music Society.