China breaks into Vegas show business; debut comes as country seeks parity at artistic table

The Associated Press

FILE - In this Jan. 3, 2014, file photo, actors perform during a preview of "PANDA!" in the Palazzo Theater at the Palazzo hotel-casino in Las Vegas. “PANDA!” is the first Chinese-produced show to take up residency on the famous tourist corridor. Directed by An Zhou, the man behind the 2008 Beijing Olympics opening and closing ceremonies, “PANDA!” opened to mixed critical reviews in December and recently added dates through July. It follows two Chinese-produced resident shows in Branson, Mo., and a steady flow of touring Chinese arts troupes. (AP Photo/Las Vegas Review-Journal, Jerry Henkel, File)

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"They understand what success is in the wider world," Barbash said, "and what that may mean is that if they want to be respected by the wider world, an evolution has to take place."

The Palazzo casino is gambling that "PANDA!," with its comparatively low-cost tickets, can win over visitors who pay hefty prices to see the renowned acrobatics and showmanship of Las Vegas' seven Cirque du Soleil shows.

"Certainly competing with Cirque has been a goal for a long time," said Alison Friedman, who owns the Beijing-based arts consulting and production firm Ping Pong Productions, "and also reversing the image of 'Made in China' being low quality."

While the gambling industry has increased links in recent years between Vegas and Asia, including luring visitors to Sin City with elaborate Chinese New Year decor and events and playing up baccarat, producers say they want to build up an audience stateside for "authentically Chinese" shows like theirs.

"Art has no borders and we hope audiences will experience a completely different feeling with the show," producer Xu said. "Although 'PANDA!' is the only Chinese show in Las Vegas right now, I truly believe that there will be more Chinese shows in the future."

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