Immersive show ‘Piying Dream’ at RexKL displays 3,000 digitised shadow puppet artefacts from Qing Dynasty to present day

It's a captivating audiovisual journey through time and culture.

The production is reimagined by Danny Rose Studio — an award-winning, Paris-based multidisciplinary collective of digital artists, code artists, composers and musicians (All photos: Piying Dream)

There was once a time when piying, or Chinese shadow play, was a much-loved pastime enjoyed by people of all ages, no different from gathering around the television in the evenings. However, like many other traditional art forms, this practice is fast disappearing.

In the Asian Theatre Journal Volume 35, Tang Rui states in her “The Heritage of Wang Piying Troupe” article: “Chinese shadow play (piyingxi) is an important genre, rooted in the cultural needs and spiritual beliefs of the people and it has been documented for two thousand years. It is found in most regions of China.”

This shadow play, now recognised as a Unesco intangible heritage, was converted into an original immersive experience named Piying Dream, now taking place at RexKL in Kuala Lumpur. Reimagined by Danny Rose Studio — an award-winning, Paris-based multidisciplinary collective of digital artists, code artists, composers and musicians — the production features a narrative woven from over 3,000 digitised shadow puppet artefacts from the Qing Dynasty to the present day.

“The creation of the exhibition was a multifaceted endeavour, involving 3D modelling, animation, sound design and spatial computing. The storyline was crafted to honour traditional shadow play narratives while integrating them into a digital landscape, creating a bridge between past and present,” explains Sebastien Jurkowski, co-founder of Rexperience Kuala Lumpur.


Jurkowski, co-founder of Rexperience KL

“Jean [Borie de Varine] from Temple of Light introduced us to the innovative works of Danny Rose Studio, sparking a collaboration for hosting Piying Dream at RexKL. Their combined expertise in traditional Chinese art and modern digital installations was the perfect blend for bringing this unique show to life.” The exhibition first took place in Shanghai and Shenzhen, China, last year.

Jurkowski says piying is a form of storytelling using silhouetted figures similar to wayang kulit. “What I love most about Piying Dream is its ability to transport visitors into a magical world where traditional Chinese narratives come to life through cutting-edge technology employed by Temple of Light and Danny Rose, using light as their medium.”

The artists from the Danny Rose collective drew inspiration from a diverse array of works. Their creative journey took them to the Minhang Chinese Shadow Museum of Ma Demin, the fifth-generation descendant of Ma’s Shadow Puppetry and owner of the world’s largest collection of shadow puppets.

In the imaginative realm of Piying Dream, iconic characters from classic Chinese literature, such as the beloved Sun Wukong (or Monkey King), the wise Zhuge Liang and the heroic Wu Song, alongside mythical creatures like dragons, make an appearance. Traditional pavilions, flora and fauna break free from conventional depictions, appearing in unexpected forms. What’s more, an original Chinese musical score enhances the overall audiovisual experience.


Turning immersive art into a shared experience

“We have set out to design something that has never been built before — a vast installation in a heritage landmark to house the burgeoning demand for experiential attractions,” adds the man behind Rexperience who wants it to be recognised as a hub for innovative, immersive art experiences that is in line with its mission to merge cultural heritage with modern technologies.

“The response from the public has been nothing short of extraordinary. Seeing elderly visitors moved to tears and children engaging so joyfully with the imaginary visuals projected onto the floor truly embodies the immersive and interactive nature of Rexperience.”

The second part of the exhibition, Matter of Painting, offers visitors a unique experience. Inspired by action paintings from 1950s New York City, the showcase transforms the walls of the immersive theatre into a captivating canvas of colours and textures, where an invisible artist creates a live painting performance to offer the audience stunning visuals and a meditative atmosphere.

'Piying Dream and Matter of Painting' will run until Sept 6 at RexKL, 80 Jalan Sultan, KL. Tickets for the one-hour exhibition are priced at RM60 for adults, RM42 for youth, students, seniors and persons with disabilities, and RM30 for children. For more information and to purchase tickets, click here.

This article first appeared on Apr 1, 2024 in The Edge Malaysia.


Follow us on Instagram