Mystical and magnificent, a new music theatre work brings an international vocal ensemble and percussionists to the stage alongside giant puppets and striking lanterns, delivering four mythological tales inspired by ancient Chinese myths.

Co-commissioned by the Moss Arts Center, “Book of Mountains and Seas” comes to the center’s Anne and Ellen Fife Theatre, located within the Street and Davis Performance Hall at 190 Alumni Mall, on Friday, March 24, at 7:30 p.m. Created by composer Huang Ruo and puppeteer, designer, and director Basil Twist, the work is sung in Mandarin with English supertitles.

“Book of Mountains and Seas” is based on a Chinese compilation of early myths of the same title that was first transcribed in the fourth century B.C. Over the years, these mythological stories have become part of Chinese written and oral history. The vocal-theatre production is a 21st century adaptation and expansion of these abstract tales, shifted and reshaped with a contemporary lens. With lyrics based on the original Chinese texts from the book, additional text completes the soundscape and symbolic drama.

The four stories contain timeless codes about the universe, creation, planet, nature, life, human ambition and fate, and the relationship and interaction between humans and the planet. The fables explore the creation of Earth, as well as individual struggles with the environment – exploring the meaning of revenge and the relationship between humans and the forces of nature.

Ruo’s vibrant and inventive musical voice draws equal inspiration from Chinese ancient and folk music, Western avant-garde, experimental, noise, and natural and processed sound, to create a seamless, organic integration using a compositional technique he calls “dimensionalism.” His diverse compositional works span from orchestra, chamber music, opera, theatre, and dance, to cross-genre, sound installation, architectural installation, multimedia, experimental improvisation, folk rock, and film.

Twist is a third-generation puppeteer. A Guggenheim and MacArthur Fellowship recipient, Twist is the sole American to graduate from the École Supérieure Nationale des Arts de la Marionnette in Charleville-Mezieres, France. His showmanship was spotlighted in New York by the Jim Henson International Festival of Puppetry, and he has created over 20 original full-length works for the stage. He was recently nominated for an Olivier Award for Best Theatre Choreographer for his work on the theatrical production “My Friend Totoro,” currently running in London’s West End.

Ars Nova Copenhagen is a 12-piece Grammy-winning vocal ensemble founded in 1979 that is widely recognized as one of the world's finest of its kind. The ensemble specializes in the interpretation of the polyphonic choral music of the Renaissance and new vocal music.

In addition to the Moss Arts Center, “Book of Mountains and Seas” is commissioned by Beth Morrison Projects, Ars Nova Copenhagen, Toronto Soundstreams, Koorbiennale, Hong Kong New Vision Festival, and Linda and Stuart Nelson. The Moss engagement is its first presentation in the United States outside of New York.

Related events

Ruo will deliver a pre-performance talk on the development of “Book of Mountains and Seas” and its role in his broader canon of “dimensionalist” music on Friday, March 24, at 6 p.m. in the Moss Arts Center’s Cube. The event is free and open to the public, but registration is required.

Ruo will speak with Virginia Tech students about his path through higher education to the world of new music as part of the Asian Cultural Engagement Center’s guest speaker series. In addition, Ruo and Twist will lead five classes spanning music composition, theatre history, and scene design in the School of Performing Arts.

Ticket information

Tickets for the performance are $25-$55 for general public and $10 for students and youth 18 and under. Tickets can be purchased online; at the Moss Arts Center's box office, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesday through Friday, and 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday; or by calling 540-231-5300 during box office hours.

Free parking is available for Moss Arts Center patrons in the North End Parking Garage on Turner Street beginning one hour prior to the performance. Virginia Tech has also partnered with ParkMobile to provide a convenient, contactless electronic payment option for parking, which may be used at any parking meter, campus parking space, or lot with standard F/S, C/G, or R parking.

If you are an individual with a disability and desire an accommodation, please contact Jamie Wiggert at least 10 days prior to the event at 540-231-5300 or email during regular business hours.

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