Per­form­ers of shadow play, Pek­ing Opera and ac­ro­bat­ics are dis­play­ing their skills at the Tra­di­tional Cul­ture & Arts Week in Bei­jing. re­ports.

Chen Nan

China Daily (Latin America Weekly) - - 8 Life - West hu­tong The Jour­ney to the White Snake Lady, Ke Si Jian Yi, Wang Zi, Contact the writer at chen­nan@chi­nadaily.com.cn

Lu Bao­gang can still re­mem­ber the day his fa­ther died of a heart at­tack in 1979. For Lu, who was 15 then, it felt like sky was fall­ing. That year, as the youngest and only son of his fam­ily, Lu dropped out of school and started work­ing with the Bei­jing Shadow Show Troupe, where his fa­ther was ap­pointed as di­rec­tor days be­fore he died.

“My mother made the de­ci­sion for me and I had to obey be­cause I had to earn money to sup­port my fam­ily,” says Lu, who has four el­der sis­ters.

He was a top stu­dent in his class and his dream was to study in univer­sity and be­come a teacher af­ter grad­u­a­tion.

Stand­ing in his of­fice at the Bei­jing Shadow Show Troupe, which is based in a quiet and hid­den (al­ley­way) in the cap­i­tal’s Xicheng dis­trict, Lu, 53, who is now the di­rec­tor of the troupe, re­calls the events like they hap­pened yesterday.

The art his fa­ther prac­ticed was shadow play, also known as shadow pup­petry, an an­cient Chi­nese art form com­bin­ing mu­sic, sto­ry­telling and pup­pets.

The art, which took shape in the West­ern Han Dy­nasty (206 BC-AD 24), reached its peak in the Tang (618-907) and Song (960-1279) dy­nas­ties.

The troupe cel­e­brates its 60th an­niver­sary this year. And dur­ing the on­go­ing Tra­di­tional Cul­ture & Arts Week, which kicked off on Oct 31 and runs through Nov 17, Lu is lead­ing his troupe to dis­play his fam­ily’s craft.

There were, at one time, two schools of shadow pup­petry in Bei­jing: east­ern and west­ern. Al­though they orig­i­nated from the same source, they were dif­fer­ent when it came to per­form­ing styles.

Lu is the fifth gen­er­a­tion to fol­low his fam­ily’s shadow play tra­di­tion, whose style is from the old west­ern school.

The Bei­jing Shadow Show Troupe, set up by the gov­ern­ment in 1957, is an ex­ten­sion of the Lu fam­ily tra­di­tion.

Since its found­ing, the troupe has re­ceived sup­port from es­tab­lished Pek­ing Opera masters, in­clud­ing Mei Lan­fang, who had in­vited the troupe to per­form at his home many times.

“Shadow play and Pek­ing Opera have a strong con­nec­tion. Many reper­toires, in­clud­ing

and were shared by shadow play and Pek­ing Opera,” says Lu.

Like many tra­di­tional Chi­nese art forms, such as Pek­ing Opera, shadow play has gone through rocky times, chal­lenged by di­verse con­tem­po­rary en­ter­tain­ment.

In 2008, shadow play was listed as a na­tional in­tan­gi­ble cul­tural her­itage.

What Lu wants to do is more than dis­play this art form.

“I want to re­vi­tal­ize this art form. I am proud of my fam­ily’s tra­di­tion. But for decades, the troupe was los­ing tal­ent and its mar­ket was de­clin­ing. It would be a shame if this art form dies in my hands,” says Lu.

The troupe now has 11 ac­tors, from their early 20s to their 50s, who give about 110 per­for­mances ev­ery year around the coun­try. They also pro­duce shadow pup­pet car­toons for tele­vi­sion and do free shows to chil­dren dur­ing the sum­mer va­ca­tion.

For now, Lu is pre­par­ing for

dur­ing the Tra­di­tional Cul­ture & Arts Week in Bei­jing.

a new show to be pre­miered in 2018, which will in­te­grate tra­di­tional shadow play with con­tem­po­rary el­e­ments, like a mul­ti­me­dia stage set, to at­tract younger au­di­ences.

But he feels that there is much to be done.

He says that by let­ting more peo­ple see the art form — from the per­for­mances to the tech­niques of mak­ing shadow pup­pets — peo­ple, es­pe­cially the young, could be in­spired by what they see and be­gin their own re­vival.

Along with Lu’s troupe, the on­go­ing Tra­di­tional Cul­ture & Arts Week also fea­tures Bei­jing Fen­glei Pek­ing Opera Com­pany, which cel­e­brates its 80th an­niver­sary; and the Bei­jing Ac­ro­batic Troupe, which marks 60 years.

The two troupes are also per­form­ing their lat­est works at the fes­ti­val.

The Bei­jing Fen­glei Pek­ing Opera Com­pany was on the verge of dy­ing in 2001, but had a dra­matic re­ver­sal of for­tune thanks to Song Yan, now 53, a Pek­ing Opera ac­tor, who is also the di­rec­tor of the com­pany.

When Song be­came the di­rec­tor, he led the ac­tors to give nearly 800 per­for­mances in 15 months, which helped it sur­vive.

To­day, 16 years later, the com­pany is one of the best­known Pek­ing Opera com­pa­nies in the coun­try, do­ing about 600 shows a year.

The com­pany pre­miered its work, at the Tian­qiao Per­form­ing Arts Cen­ter on Nov 1 and 2, which is about the peo­ple who rented cos­tumes to Pek­ing Opera troupes in the 1930s.

The show is the sec­ond of a tril­ogy by Song, in which he com­bines the­ater with Pek­ing Opera. The first show, ti­tled

pre­miered in Oc­to­ber 2015. It tells the story of a fa­ther and his adopted son in Bei­jing in the 1930s.

Speak­ing about the chal­lenges tra­di­tional art forms are fac­ing, Song, who joined the troupe when he was 12, says: “Though they are dif­fer­ent, there is one thing in com­mon. Peo­ple who learn these arts have to be pa­tient and fo­cused. You have to iso­late your­self from the out­side world, which is full of com­mer­cial ben­e­fits and a va­ri­ety of en­ter­tain­ments. It takes years and even decades to mas­ter these tech­niques. That’s why these arts are time­less and can still be ap­pre­ci­ated by au­di­ences cen­turies later.”

The Bei­jing Ac­ro­batic Troupe will present a show, which won a gold medal at the Paris’ Fes­ti­val Mon­dial du Cirque de De­main (The World Fes­ti­val of the Cir­cus of To­mor­row) in 1995.

Bei­jing Tian­qiao Zenith In­vest­ment Group Co Ltd, which man­ages the three troupes, says they did more than 1,400 shows in 2016, which at­tracted more than 400,000 peo­ple.

And in an­other bit of good news, the gov­ern­ment of Xicheng dis­trict has re­ceived ap­proval for a project to build a her­itage cen­ter in the Tian­qiao area, once a haven for folk arts and small busi­nesses in the late 19th and early 20th cen­turies, to pro­mote shadow pup­petry and ac­ro­bat­ics.

Xu Li, the deputy head of Xicheng dis­trict, says: “These troupes are na­tional trea­sures, and they have per­formed in other coun­tries in cul­tural ex­change pro­grams, in­tro­duc­ing Chi­nese cul­ture to in­ter­na­tional au­di­ences.”

ZOU HONG / CHINA DAILY

Lu Bao­gang, di­rec­tor of the Bei­jing Shadow Show Troupe, demon­strates how to ma­nip­u­late a pup­pet in his of­fice in Bei­jing. He be­lieves reach­ing out to younger au­di­ences may help re­vive the age-old art form.

PRO­VIDED TO CHINA DAILY

Bei­jing Fen­glei Pek­ing Opera Com­pany presents its work,

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