“My son is very proud of me for going to this,” a woman of around 70 said as she waited in the long line at Boettcher Hall in Denver last night to get into the highly anticipated collaboration between RZA of the Wu-Tang Clan and the Colorado Symphony.

The audience was diverse—in terms of age, race, and, especially, clothing style. Some people, perhaps those with Colorado Symphony subscriptions and long-held love of classical music, wore formal attire, while some wore iconic black and yellow Wu-Tang shirts, and others looked dressed for a night out at a jam band concert.

The evening was split in two with an intermission:

First, the classic Hong Kong kung-fu film The 36th Chamber of Shaolin, a keystone in the inspiration for the Wu-Tang Clan’s formation in New York 30 years ago, played as RZA intermittently DJ’d and rapped while the symphony played music that interpreted the emotional arc of the film and juxtaposed RZA’s energy and genius.

I’m not an avid symphony-goer, but my guess is that symphony audiences aren’t often urged to shout f-bombs in unison, let alone asked whether, indeed, something or someone “ain’t nothin’ to fuck with.” That pumped-up energy married the rousing, socialist theme of The 36th Chamber and RZA’s rhymes with the Colorado Symphony’s power beautifully.

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It was especially fascinating to, as my friend said, “see Wu-Tang samples in real time.” While The 36th Chamber, so important in the ethos and language of the Wu-Tang Clan, played and the music alternately thumped and soared, phrases and ideas from the film that appear in Wu-Tang songs came to life.

RZA, dressed in black and yellow from head to toe with a baseball cap, sunglasses, and a jacket with a sparkly yellow Wu-Tang Clan logo on the back, brought the crowd to its feet MC’ing a Wu-Tang Clan medley as halftime neared.

After the break, which saw long lines for booze, RZA, the Colorado Symphony, the symphony’s choir, and a group of dancers unveiled A Ballet Through Mud, which combines RZA’s memories of his teenage years with a sixth-century Buddhist story in which zen patriarch Bodhidharma tells spiritual-materialist monks “a lotus grows from the mud.”

A four-page story written by RZA and passed out to concertgoers traversed the Buddhist story that inspired him as well as his own narrative of young people tripping over the pitfalls of love. The dancers used the entire space to express the story, including the aisles.

RZA was only on stage for the very beginning of the ballet to hype up the crowd and tell the Bodhidharma story, and then again at the end to put a bow on the whole evening. It was a stark contrast from the RZA-with-a-symphony first half, but stunning and relevant in its own way, too.

RZA & The Colorado Symphony – A Ballet Through Mud [Sneak Preview]

Chris Dragon, conductor of the Colorado Symphony, worked with the Wu-Tang Clan a few years ago on collaborations at Red Rocks and Mission Ballroom. This, though, represents a remarkable new chapter in the Colorado Symphony’s collaborations with pop artists—taking an idea RZA had while at dinner with his wife last Valentine’s Day and bringing it to realization on the Colorado Symphony’s home field one year later.

The unique genius of RZA means, of course, every detail was intentional and often coded—like the main character of the ballet, Ionian, taking the name of the first mode of musical scales.

The whole experience was just plain fun, too, like the big laugh evoked by the pre-show announcement “smoking is prohibited in the concert hall,” and the thrill of RZA appearing for the ballet in a new outfit—a sleek, red-striped black suit with immaculate boots, a flat cap, and, of course, dark sunglasses.

RZA’s question, “Everybody havin’ a good time tonight?” should be asked at the symphony more often, and the one thing I considered that would’ve made the performance more engaging was the percussionists providing more of a collaborative flair. With all the instruments at their disposal, they really stood silent and still for the most part when RZA manned the turntables and produced beats. Some creative tympani, snare, bass drum—hell, even triangle—in improvisational relationship with those beats would’ve been, well, a good time.