Nuo day

Bei­jing show com­bines modern dance with pop­u­lar folk opera

China Daily (USA) - - FRONT PAGE - Con­tact the writer at chen­nan@chi­nadaily.com.cn

In a re­hearsal room at the Bei­jing Dance Academy, which is full of young dancers, Luo Huiwu draws all the at­ten­tion.

Luo, 77, walks slowly to­ward the cen­ter of a stage and starts chant­ing. The dancers be­hind him bow their heads and he does as well.

The rit­ual, which Luo has prac­ticed for the past 50 years, is part of the new dance drama Nuo Emo­tion.

It will be staged in Bei­jing on Mon­day.

The piece, which is be­ing pro­duced by thea­cademy, com­bines con­tem­po­rary dance moves with el­e­ments of Nuo— a pop­u­lar folk opera in China’s south and east.

Luo is from Shiyou, a vil­lage in Nan­feng county, Jiangxi prov­ince, where the Nan­feng Nuo Opera Troupe is based. He is the old­est per­former in his troupe.

“In the be­gin­ning and at the end of a show, I sing the lyrics. They are prayers for good things, such as for­tune, hap­pi­ness and health. The singing is per­formed in an an­cient Jiangxi di­alect that doesn’t have a writ­ten form,” says Luo.

He started learn­ing the opera in his early 20s.

“We also sing for the past Nuo per­form­ers, show­ing our grat­i­tude to them for teach­ing us.”

In the up­com­ing show, seven other mem­bers of his troupe will also per­form.

Nuo was once widely per­formed in olden-day China when peo­ple wanted top ray for na­ture’s mercy to stop dis­as­ters and the spread of dis­eases or for good har­vest sand longevity.

Orig­i­nat­ing in the 16th cen­tury as a form of totem worship, Nuo drew some ref­er­ences from Tao­ism later. Per­form­ers wear heavy cos­tumes and thick masks that sym­bol­ize many gods.

Guo Lei, head of the Bei­jing Dance Academy, is di­rect­ing the dance drama.

Also a na­tive of Jiangxi, Guo grew up watch­ing Nuo Opera.

“As a child I was scared of the masks. But as I grew older, it be­came fun to watch such per­for­mances,” re­calls Guo.

Many of the masks are made of wood.

In 2013, when Guo and the academy’s dancers went to Art­sCross, a ma­jor an­nual in­ter­cul­tural project in Lon­don, they did a Nuo per­for­mance, which got good feed­back from the au­di­ence.

“Peo­ple kept on ask­ing us what the masks are about and what the dances mean,” says Guo. “Not just the au­di­ence, but also our young dancers — they are very cu­ri­ous about Nuo.”

Many young Chi­nese don’t knowabout­this cul­ture, mostly be­cause it is dy­ing to­day.

After the show in Lon­don, Guo took the stu­dents to his home­town to ex­plain more about the opera.

In the past three years, they have vis­ited Nan­feng a few times and spent months with the dancers of the Nan­feng Nuo Opera Troupe.

That’s how the academy’s as­so­ci­a­tion with Luo de­vel­oped.

Guo says the folk tra­di­tion that has evolved over thou­sands of years has been passed down gen­er­a­tions.

A Nuo per­for­mance can last for days with the prac­ti­tion­ers telling folk tales through chants, songs or dance.

Nan­feng is known for Nuo dance. When the per­form­ers put on the masks, they don’t talk or sing dur­ing danc­ing in rev­er­ence of the gods. The in­stru­ments ac­com­pa­ny­ing the dance are drums and gongs.

The academy’s dancers were amazed by the art form when they vis­ited Shiyou vil­lage, says Wu Shuai, ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor of Nuo Emo­tion. All the vil­lagers and peo­ple from nearby gath­ered at a tem­ple, which was built in 1781 for the gods ofNuo. Some fam­i­lies had even in­vited the troupe to per­form at their homes.

“We only have eight peo­ple in the troupe and we danced 24 hours dur­ing the Spring Fes­ti­val,” says troupe di­rec­tor and vil­lage head, YeGen­ming.

The 49-year-old started to learn Nuoa sateen ager. He says the tra­di­tion of invit­ing Nuo troupes to per­form at peo­ple’s homes goes back to the Ming Dy­nasty (1368-1644).

How to pass on the an­cient tra­di­tion is a se­ri­ous is­sue for Ye. When he first started as a Nuo per­former in the 1980s, there were more than 100 Nuo troupes in­Nan­feng. Only a few are left.

To save the old art, Ye opened a school to train young en­thu­si­asts in 2006. It has trained 60 stu­dents.

“Fewer young peo­ple are learn­ing it be­cause they are more at­tracted to modern things,” saysYe. “Butweare still try­ing to pre­serve the cul­ture of Nuo.”

PHO­TOS BY ZOU HONG / CHINA DAILY

NuoE­mo­tion, pro­duced by the Bei­jing Dance Academy, com­bines con­tem­po­rary dance moves with el­e­ments of an­cient Nuo Opera.

NuoE­mo­tion.

Luo Huiwu (sec­ond left), a Nuo Opera per­former from Jiangxi prov­ince, takes part in the dance drama

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