If I could pick just one word to describe Terracotta Warriors 3D, it would be “imaginative.” But this is a production that must be experienced first-hand to truly understand. The performance, which opened for its U.S. premiere in Denver on August 11, combines dance, music, Chinese history, and a 3D LED screen for a theatrical performance unlike anything I’ve seen before.

It’s the brainchild of Dennis Law, a surgeon-turned-director who was raised in Hong Kong but has long called Denver home. He’s created a dozen of what he calls “action musicals,” in which the story is told through the action (dance, martial arts, or acrobatics), and the singing is done by a third party on the side (similar to how Cirque du Soleil has a live vocalist separated from the rest of the performance). “When I supported the arts in Denver, I never really saw action like I saw in China,” Law says. “I thought we could really create a new kind of theater.”

In Terracotta Warriors, Law transforms a traditional Chinese tale—the script is loosely based on the 2,200-year-old story of China’s first emperor, as told from the perspective of his eunich—into a performance Western audiences will understand and enjoy. (He says typical Chinese theater would be too slow for Americans.)

The 3D aspect is possible due to the first-ever HD LED video wall, which is made up of more than two million tiny bulbs. (Yes, you will have to wear 3D glasses.) It sets the scenery for the performers—and makes the set feel alive as birds fly toward the audience and animated doors slam open. The 80-minute production—Law calls it the “first 3D show in the world”—immerses the audience in a world far from Denver. The costumes are ornate (more than 400 were created for the show), and live drumming pulsates through the intimate Newman Center theater. While the choreography is straightforward, it is beautifully rendered by more than 40 dancers from China. In a true testament to Law’s commitment to cross-cultural entertainment, Colorado Ballet dancers will take over the lead roles in some performances.

Go see it. Then tell me what one word you would use to describe Terracotta Warriors.

Details: Catch Terracotta Warriors 3D at the Newman Center for the Performing Arts (on the University of Denver campus) through September 6. Showtimes: Tuesday to Friday, 8 p.m.; Saturday and Sunday, 2:30 p.m., 8 p.m. Tickets start at $39; all sales benefit DU and local nonprofits.

Daliah Singer
Daliah Singer
Daliah Singer is an award-winning writer and editor based in Denver. You can find more of her work at daliahsinger.com.