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Celebrating a traditional art form

By Chen Nan | China Daily | Updated: 2016-09-03 08:19

Red carpets, sensual choreography, powerful music, gorgeous costumes and impressive visual effects created a visual feast at a Peking Opera performance on a recent weekend in Beijing's Central Business District.

The show, staged by the Peking Opera Theater of Beijing, a troupe that was founded in 1979 and which was the principal stage for Peking Opera masters including Ma Liangliang, Tan Fuying and Zhang Junqiu, was part of the Lux Shine National Heritage Grand Ceremony, an event celebrating the traditional Chinese art form and honoring Peking Opera actors.

"The reason I got involved with such a stylish and crossover production is because I wanted to do something really big and trendy that would appeal to everyone, not just to people who understand Peking Opera," says Ma Yingying, the founder and CEO of Lux Shine, a Beijing-based company, which organized the gala.

"The young Peking Opera actors were shining just like big movie stars. It was a big night for those artists to show off their skills.

As the gala started, there was a clash of cymbals, drums, wooden clappers and the rousing sounds of an orchestra of Chinese string, woodwind instruments, and contemporary music elements, including hip hop and rock.

The 18 performers who were honored at the show were selected at a talent contest, which was conducted jointly by Peking Opera Theater of Beijing and Ma's company in early June.

The week-long contest attracted over 150 million viewers on the internet, who voted and participated in interactive programs.

One of the young Peking Opera actors honored at the event was 23-year-old Zhou Meihui, who performed lead roles in classical Peking Opera pieces such as Legend of the White Snake and Yang Silang Visits His Mother, during the competition.

Zhou, who started studying Peking Opera at the age of 4 thanks to her family, joined the Peking Opera of Beijing in 2014 as a dan actor (one who plays lead female roles).

Speaking of her passion for Peking Opera, Zhou, who learned the Shang School performance, one of the four well-known Peking Opera Dan role schools founded by Peking Opera master Shang Xiaoyun in the 1920s, said: "Nothing represents Chinese culture better than Peking Opera. So, I am glad to display my skills of the Shang School."

Commenting on the response to the talent contest, Peking Opera Theater of Beijing chief Li Enjie said: "We didn't expect so much attention. So, I am glad that so many young people want to emulate the actors."

The talent contest is just the latest in a series of measures to promote Peking Opera.

But since 2011, the Peking Opera Theater of Beijing has held other competitions for young Peking Opera actors to promote their art, especially to younger audiences.

"The older generation go to Peking Opera performances, hoping to see established stars, while the younger people are looking for stories, stage sets and costumes."

The latest performance was the first collaboration between Ma's company and Peking Opera Theater of Beijing.

Explaining her passion for the art form, Ma said: "Whenever I used to visit the theater to see Peking Opera shows, I used to feel like I was going back to what the city used to be: quiet, gardens shaded by trees, small storefronts and bicycles.

It's there (in the theaters) that these young Peking Opera actors pursue their passion for the old art."

"For a lot of people, these young actors are unknown quantities, but they deserve recognition. That's why we held this gala to let them be seen."

Ma, a Beijing native, who was a former show host on CCTV, fell in love with Peking Opera after hosting a TV program about traditional Chinese opera.

Explaining her fascination with the art form, she says: "Like many young people, who were born in the 1980s, I was not interested in Peking Opera until I got an opportunity to get close to traditional culture.

"After interviewing the Peking Opera actors, both the established and new ones, I was impressed by their passion for the art form and I was fascinated by Peking Opera."

Since founding her own company in May 2014, Ma has been focusing on promoting and preserving Peking Opera.

While traditionalists often mourn how ancient Chinese art forms are under threat, Ma tries to give Peking Opera a modern edge by combining the ancient art form with contemporary elements.

"I am positive about the future because I think people will always return to their roots once they realize how charming it is," she said.


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