Peking Opera returns to the London stage

By Sun Wei in London Source:Global Times Published: 2016/10/11 19:53:39

Li Shengsu (left) and Yu Kuizhi perform in Beijing in 2015. Photo: IC

Inset: Yu Kuizhi (left) and Li Shengsu (middle) Photo: Sun Wei/GT

The China National Peking Opera Company will bring two traditional opera masterpieces The General and the Prime Minister and The Legend of the White Snake to the Peacock Theatre in London from Thursday to Saturday.

The Chinese opera troupe's third UK show, the show is being headed by Yu Kuizhi and Li Shengsu, both well-known Peking opera stars in China. Yu is also the company's vice president and artistic director.

Last year, the company brought Farewell My Concubine and The Warrior Women of Yang to the UK as part of activities marking the Year of China-UK cultural exchange. The performances were well received by critics.

Yu told the Global Times, that the performers were originally worried about whether the British audience would be able to understand or appreciate Peking Opera when they first performed in the UK back in 2005, but the remarkable enthusiasm of the audiences they performed for filled them with confidence.

According to Kevin Zhang - director of Sinolink Production, the company that helped bring the troupe to the UK - Peking Opera and Western theater are not only very different when it comes to artistic expression but also in the way audiences go about showing their appreciation.

"For example, Western audiences tend to hold their applause until the intermission or after curtain call as a sign of respect. However, Peking Opera performers actually enjoy it when the audience interacts with them, and so audiences are encouraged to clap and even shout whenever they feel like it."

As the lead female performer, Li said that she was surprised at the "first-class" level of respect and recognition British audience showed the performers.

"I was amazed that they knew exactly when to applaud and cheer," Li told the Global Times, adding that she felt as if she was performing at home in China.

To help the British audience better understand the performances, the troupe not only used English subtitles throughout, but also gave a brief introduction to the stories and pointed out some of the highlights the audience should look for.

Yu said, they also made some adjustments to better accommodate Western tastes. For example, for the upcoming performance they have included more martial arts based on feedback from last year.

It's understandable why the troupe would take such great care in presenting Peking Opera, while its deep ties to traditional culture are a great strength, it can present a hurdle for those unfamiliar with it.

"Peking Opera is fantastically enriched by traditional Chinese art forms such as literature, music, dance, martial arts and acrobatics," Li said.

She added that the two pieces this year are considered to represent the quintessential flavor of the art.

The General and the Prime Minister is based on historical accounts from the Warring States period (475BC-221BC). Set against an emotive backdrop of trickery, power struggles and personal determination, it is filled with drama and excitement.

Meanwhile, The Legend of White Snake takes on a more romantic flair. It tells the love story between a young man and Lady White, a snake spirit disguised as a human.

Dating back to 1790, Peking Opera is one of the oldest still active performance disciplines in the world and represents the essence of traditional Chinese values of generosity, virtue, courtesy, wisdom and respect for the elderly.

It usually requires a lifetime of dedication to become one of the art form's greats. Most performers begin training at a very young age before becoming apprentices and learning from masters.

Great effort has been put into preserving this traditional artistic heritage. Every year, Peking Opera troupes travel to universities in China and around the world, inspiring younger generations to get involved. China's Ministry of Education has also implemented a project in which 200 primary schools across 10 provinces in China have included Peking Opera as part of their music curriculum.

Talking about the future of Peking Opera, Yu said one way to keep the art alive is to make sure it fits the aesthetic taste of the times. He encourages performers to innovate while preserving the art's essential characteristics.

Newspaper headline: The General and the Snake

Posted in: Miscellany, Theater

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