New per­for­mances de­light HK with the magic of Kunqu

China Daily (Hong Kong) - - CHINA - By LI MENG in Hong Kong

The Kunqu Opera Theater of the Jiangsu Per­form­ing Arts Group brought a con­tem­po­rary flair to charm Hong Kong au­di­ences — pre­sent­ing two per­for­mances on Thurs­day and Fri­day at Hong Kong Academy for Per­form­ing Arts. It suc­ceeded in ex­plor­ing the pos­si­bil­i­ties of com­bin­ing Chi­nese tra­di­tions with con­tem­po­rary art ideas.

The 40-year-old theater troupe col­lab­o­rated with the lo­cal, ex­per­i­men­tal theater com­pany, Zuni Icosa­he­dron to bring fresh el­e­gance and spec­ta­cle to Kunqu in a per­for­mance of Tang Xianzu’s Dream on Dreams. This is a new-con­cept Kunqu piece mix­ing tra­di­tional el­e­ments of the oper­atic school with mul­ti­me­dia the­atri­cal de­vices.

Ke Jun, chief man­ager of Jiangsu Per­form­ing Arts Com­pany, fa­mous Kunqu play­wright Zhang Hong and other Kunqu pro­fes­sion­als de­scribe the work as play-within-a-play con­nect­ing works of Tang Xianzu in a sur­pris­ing way.

The li­bretto re­counts tale of Tang Xianzu — the cel­e­brated Chi­nese play­wright of the Ming Dy­nasty (1368-1644), who falls asleep un­der a tree. Tang then dreams and en­coun­ters char­ac­ters from his four Chi­nese clas­si­cal works: The Story of the Pur­ple Hair­pin, The Peony Pav­il­ion, Nanke Story The Han Dan Dream.

The nar­ra­tive un­folds as Tang re­traces the course of his cre­ative strug­gles. He re­al­izes that he has to re­con­sider his views about love, life, death and other im­por­tant top­ics.

Ke Jun par­al­lels the ex­per­i­men­tal Kunqu piece with the 2010 sci-fi movie In­cep­tion — in which there are dif­fer­ent lay­ers of aware­ness; each is in­ter­con­nected with other el­e­ments.

Like Christo­pher Nolan, the di­rec­tor of In­cep­tion, Ke was cu­ri­ous about the dream con­cept. He set out to ex­plore the bound­ary be­tween il­lu­sions and re­al­ity in Kunqu opera.

Tang Xianzu’s Dream on Dreams is one of Ke’s Kunqu ex­per­i­ments. He uti­lizes tech­no­log­i­cal tools and a mul­ti­me­dia ap­proach to tell his­tor­i­cal sto­ries and lega­cies.

In Ke’s mind, the most cru­cial thing is to “show enough re­spect to Kunqu tra­di­tions” in­stead of “merely dis­play­ing the nov­elty of tech­nol­ogy”.

“The core is al­ways Kunqu it­self, and con­tem­po­rary de­vices, if suit­ably ar­ranged, may ‘add col­ors’ to the orig­i­nal pieces.” Said Shi Xiaomei, a renowned Kunqu player who has per­formed with the Kunqu Opera Theater of Jiangsu Per­form­ing Arts Group for 50 years.

The in­ter­ven­tion of con­tem­po­rary art el­e­ments, cre­at­ing a more mod­ern aura, is aimed at re­duc­ing the “dis­tance” be­tween Kunqu and the au­di­ence. Ke and Shi agree the ex­per­i­ment is work­ing.

Shi had her Hong Kong de­but in 1997, and since then has come back fre­quently to share her thoughts on Kunqu, one of China’s most an­cient per­form­ing arts. It com­bines opera, po­etry and mu­si­cal recitals.

Shi has given lec­tures and taken part in work­shops to pro­mote the 600-year-old art form in ad­di­tion to per­form­ing. Hong Kong au­di­ences in the 1990s, more fa­mil­iar with Pek­ing and Can­tonese Opera, knew lit­tle about Kunqu. Since then aware­ness of the art has grown steadily.

PARKER ZHENG / CHINA DAILY

Kunqu Opera per­form­ers brings a taste of Jiangsu to Hong Kong as they per­form in Tang Xianzu’s Dream on Dreams at Hong Kong Academy for Per­form­ing Arts on Thurs­day.

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