Stag­ing a re­vival of an an­cient art form

For­mer TV host gives Pek­ing Opera a mod­ern twist to boost pop­u­lar­ity over­seas, An­drew Moody and Yu Hang re­port.

China Daily (Canada) - - FRONT PAGE -

En­tre­pre­neur Ma Yingying is on a mis­sion to bring Pek­ing Opera to au­di­ences in Europe and be­yond. The 33-year-old founder and CEO of Lux Shine Cul­ture Media Co, which stages mod­ern­ized ver­sions of tra­di­tional Chi­nese op­eras, be­lieves greater global in­ter­est in China means the art form has the po­ten­tial to one day ri­val Western opera.

“China’s eco­nomic de­vel­op­ment and rise have cre­ated this op­por­tu­nity,” she said. “Peo­ple in Europe, the United States and else­where want to know more about Chi­nese cul­ture as a re­sult, and there are very few things more rep­re­sen­ta­tive of that than Pek­ing Opera.”

Ma, a for­mer Chi­nese TV pre­sen­ter, plans to take her latest large-scale show, Liang Xiang Dong Fang, or Show­ing the Ori­ent, to Europe or the US next year.

“This is some­thing we are plan­ning. We think our par­tic­u­lar brand of Pek­ing Opera, which uses mod­ern stage de­sign and other mod­ern el­e­ments, is more suited to for­eign au­di­ences than tra­di­tional stag­ings.”

In try­ing to cre­ate an in­ter­na­tional au­di­ence, she is at­tempt­ing to do what Bei­jing Pek­ing Opera Theater and the China Na­tional Pek­ing Opera Co, China’s main opera com­pa­nies, have been un­able to do.

“When they have tried to take (the art form) over­seas, it hasn’t got such a warm welcome. It has al­ways been seen as Chi­nese art rather than uni­ver­sal,” she said.

“The rea­son why it hasn’t taken off, de­spite hav­ing ex­isted for more than 200 years, is be­cause it is of­ten seen as the same, un­chang­ing. Its slow pace can widen its dis­tance from the au­di­ence. Peo­ple can’t un­der­stand its li­bretto and why it takes three to four hours to tell of­ten a very sim­ple story.”

With Lux Shine, Ma’s whole ap­proach is to adapt per­for­mances for the mod­ern au­di­ence, of­ten us­ing mod­ern cos­tumes, but also blend­ing a per­for­mance with other artis­tic for­mats such as bal­let, Western opera, and rhythm and blues.

“I try to stage op­eras to suit the au­di­ence,” she said. “I once com­bined a fash­ion cat­walk with a tra­di­tional opera for an au­di­ence that was largely in­volved in the fash­ion in­dus­try. I did another per­for­mance that com­bined Pek­ing and Ital­ian op­eras, and there were also some bal­let dancers wear­ing Pek­ing Opera cos­tumes.

“The aim is to make it ex­cit­ing and rel­e­vant. This has been sadly lack­ing in the past.”

Ma, who brings a real zeal to her work, is a well-known fig­ure in China, hav­ing pre­vi­ously been a pre­sen­ter on CCTV-11, the state broad­caster’s arts chan­nel.

Raised in re­mote Xihe county of North­west China’s Gansu province, her fa­ther was a se­nior engi­neer for the lo­cal TV sta­tion and her mother was a TV an­nouncer.

“I cer­tainly don’t come from a wealthy back­ground. It was in­ter­est­ing that all my fam­ily mem­bers had ex­pe­ri­ence work­ing in TV, though,” she said. “This was very use­ful. When I started my ca­reer, I some­how felt cut out for the medium.”

Ma got her first taste of Pek­ing Opera when she played the lead­ing role of A Qing Sao in the opera Sha­ji­a­bang. “She (the char­ac­ter) is 30 years old and I was in Grade 2 at ele­men­tary school. The per­for­mance proved a suc­cess, as my school­mates al­ways rec­og­nized me on cam­pus af­ter that.”

She went on to study art at Lanzhou Univer­sity in Gansu’s pro­vin­cial cap­i­tal and, af­ter a spell work­ing on Gansu TV, she gained a master’s de­gree at the Com­mu­ni­ca­tion Univer­sity of China in Bei­jing. She joined China Cen­tral Tele­vi­sion in 2007 and of­ten pre­sented Pek­ing Opera per­for­mances for the chan­nel.

“It was then I al­most fell out of love with Pek­ing Opera,” she re­called. “It was at times al­most a kind of suf­fer­ing. I used to spend hours watch­ing shows I didn’t re­ally like, and I didn’t find many pro­duc­tions or per­form­ers I re­ally liked.

“I felt there was the pos­si­bil­ity of some­how fit­ting it to the needs of a mod­ern au­di­ence, and it was then I got the idea to launch my busi­ness.”

Lux Shine opened last year and em­ploys 13 peo­ple, in­clud­ing di­rec­tors, scriptwrit­ers, per­form­ers and pho­tog­ra­phers, and has a cast of reg­u­lar free­lance per­form­ers. The com­pany re­ceived back­ing from En­ter­tain­ment Work­shop, an an­gel in­vest­ment in­sti­tu­tion, as well as a film com­pany and many other part­ners.

De­spite progress in many ar­eas of so­ci­ety, how­ever, she said her at­tempts to pop­u­lar­ize Pek­ing Opera are still be­ing held back by the legacy of the “cul­tural revo­lu­tion” (1966-76).

“Pek­ing Opera stag­nated for about 20 years in the 1960s and 1970s. Then, af­ter the re­form and open­ing-up, Western arts flooded into China and the Chi­nese found them more ac­ces­si­ble than our tra­di­tional opera.”

Yet Ma’s stag­ings have been a hit with do­mes­tic au­di­ences, and her com­pany is now de­sign­ing an app for mo­bile de­vices to fur­ther pop­u­lar­ize Chi­nese opera. “This is the way for­ward for the art form,” she said. “It is a way to change peo­ple’s per­cep­tions of Pek­ing Opera.”

She be­lieves it is im­por­tant to get away from some of the for­mu­laic re­quire­ments of the art form, such as in­stru­men­tal mu­sic, vo­cal per­for­mances, mime, dance and ac­ro­bat­ics.

“They can put off young Chi­nese au­di­ences,” she said.

Pek­ing Opera is of­ten seen as less in­tel­lec­tual than tra­di­tional Western op­eras such as those by Mozart, Verdi and Wag­ner, but Ma hopes Western au­di­ences will see through that.

“A lot of peo­ple don’t un­der­stand that Pek­ing Opera was not ac­tu­ally cre­ated for the mass au­di­ence. It was meant to be thought-pro­vok­ing, an art de­signed for peo­ple of high sta­tus such as em­per­ors and mem­bers of the im­pe­rial house­hold. Or­di­nary peo­ple had no ac­cess to it,” she ex­plained. “I very much hope we’re suc­cess­ful in bring­ing it to in­ter­na­tional au­di­ences.” Con­tact the writ­ers through an­drew­moody@chi­nadaily.com.cn

WANG ZHUANGFEI / CHINA DAILY

Ma Yingying,

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