Avignon, where China's opera art engages with global audience
Published: Jul 03, 2024 11:19 PM
Illustration: Chen Xia

Illustration: Chen Xia

Bright yellow dragon robes, aquamarine-colored Chinese rose costumes with flowing water sleeves, purple-yellow Indian dance attire with silver jewelry... as people from all over the world engaged in the grand parade for the 78th Avignon Festival  in France on Tuesday, an Indian dancer in her traditional attire showed her admiration with a thumbs-up while having a friendly interaction with Chinese actors, who were introducing Henan Opera while wearing Chinese traditional robes.

The Chinese actors are members of the Suzhen Theater, which is bringing performances as well as workshops and other exchange events to the Avignon Festival to promote the traditional opera of Central China's Henan Province. 

From July 3 to July 21, the Henan Opera tour Echoes of Henan Opera is taking part in the 78th Avignon Festival. Wu Suzhen, the Chinese artistic director of the Suzhen Theater and winner of the 29th Plum Blossom Award (the highest theatrical award in China), will stage classic Henan Opera plays and hold workshops and other exchange activities to promote Henan Opera.

As its name implies, Henan Opera, also known as Yuju, is a prominent traditional Chinese opera originating from Henan. It has a rich history dating back several centuries and is renowned for its distinctive singing style, elaborate costumes, and unique performance techniques.

Chinese artists confidently showcasing traditional dramas, exuding charm and poise, not only fosters interactions among performers but also facilitates a dialogue among ancient theatrical cultures. On the occasion of the 60th anniversary of China-France diplomatic relations, such cultural exchanges underscore the foundational role of communication among global civilizations.

Tolerance, coexistence, exchanges and mutual learning among different civilizations play an irreplaceable role in advancing humanity's modernization and making the garden of world civilizations flourish, according to the China-proposed Global Civilization Initiative, as the future of all countries is closely connected nowadays.

As part of the 2024 China-France Cultural Tourism Year, the Chinese opera project "Orchid Pavilion Gathering," featuring Henan Opera and calligraphy workshops, was held at the Chinese Cultural Center in Paris on Tuesday. Over 100 French attendees experienced the rich and diverse charm of Chinese opera, immersing themselves in Henan's profound and unique historical and cultural heritage.

Wu, explained Chinese opera's overview, characteristics, and technical aspects like the "Four Powers and Five Methods" through physical demonstrations and vocal showcases, inviting French audiences to learn about opera in an interactive way.

Opera is not just a carrier of traditional Chinese culture but also a mirror reflecting international cultural exchanges.

Chinese Henan Opera actors talk to an Indian dancer (center) at the 78th Avignon Festival in France on July 2. Photo: Courtesy of Mu Wen

Chinese Henan Opera actors talk to an Indian dancer (center) at the 78th Avignon Festival in France on July 2. Photo: Courtesy of Mu Wen


Through the introduction and demonstration from Chinese dancers, French audiences gained a better and deeper understanding of China's operas, which have not only elaborate costumes and complex movements, but also messages and emotions that are conveyed through different movements.  

"The props used during a performance are very simple, so the actors' performances leave ample room for the imagination. You could say it's an art that transcends language barriers," said one of the actors according to a report from the Xinhua News Agency. 

Culture constitutes the strongest cement between China and France. The common history of the two countries after the establishment of diplomatic ties has nourished fruitful cultural and people-to-people exchanges, which have in turn driven cooperation and development in other areas.

Moreover, similar events plant the seeds of interest toward China in the minds of French children. Nine-year-old Lucy expressed amazement at being transformed into a character from Henan Opera, describing the experience as magical, while 13-year-old Marlina likened each step in the makeup process to an artistic creation, sparking her interest in learning about Chinese culture.

This is the magic of cultural exchange. It can connect people across ages, languages and cultures. 

This is not the first time that Chinese operas, both traditional and modern, have participated in the Avignon Festival. Kunqu Opera Six Records of a Floating Life, stage work Teahouse and others have brought joy to audiences.    

I still remember French director Jean Bellorini telling me that he had seen Chinese drama works at the Festival d'Avignon in France, and he was looking forward to cooperating with Chinese director Meng Jinghui in the future. 
That is the power of people-to-people exchanges and cooperation. Friendship starts from mutual understanding, admiration, exchanges and cooperation. It is also possible and fully hoped that these dancers from China and India could share the stage one day as the two great civilizations have done in the past millennium.    

We see the various festivals in the world as a global network for inter-civilization dialogue and cooperation. All of us are enriching exchanges and expanding avenues of cooperation to promote mutual understanding and friendship among people of all countries, and jointly advance the progress of human civilizations. Together we can make the garden of world civilizations colorful and vibrant.

The authors are reporters with the Global Times.