Heritage Downn Under
Classical Peking Operara takes stage in Austrailia lia
WPeking Opera, unlike other performing arts, is more than just music and singing.” Wu Jiatong, general manager, Wu Promotion
hen the Peking Opera Festival opened on Tuesday at the Darwin Entertainment Centre, audiences in Australia got the chance to see a troupe of nearly 70 Peking Opera actors and musicians from the Jingju Theater Company of Beijing, which is on tour through Dec 1.
Peking Opera, also known as jingju in Chinese, has a history of more than 200 years and was declared as Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity by UNESCO in 2010.
During the festival, the troupe will present two classical Peking Opera pieces, The Legend of the White Snake and One Good Turn Deserves Another, as well as three extracts from Peking Opera pieces— Monkey King Creates Havoc in Heaven, At the Cross Roads and Presenting A Pearl on Rainbow Bridge.
“The Legend of the White Snake is a graceful display of martial arts, while One Good Turn Deserves Another emphasizes the characters’ emotions,” says Li Enjie, director of Jingju Theater Company of Beijing, one of the largest and most prestigious Peking Opera troupes that was founded in 1979.
“Many Western audiences know Peking Opera only for its captivating martial arts, elaborate makeup and costumes. But those are just parts of the ancient art,” Li says. “We want audiences to get an authentic and comprehensive understanding of Peking Opera so we stage pieces like One Good Turn Deserves Another (at the event).”
He also says Peking Opera pieces are not just visual spectacles but are full of traditional Chinese values such as loyalty, modesty and honesty.
Elaborating on what makes Peking Opera rare, Wu Jiatong, general manager of Wu Promotion, one of the first private touring companies and promoters in China, says: “Peking Opera, unlike other performing arts, is more than just music and singing. It also combines drama, dancing, martial arts and acrobatics, which makes it one of the most multifaceted theatrical forms in the world.”
Wu Promotion has been organizing the Peking Opera Festival since 2012.
“We want more people to recognize its beauty,” Wu says.
Wu, whose company works on taking Chinese artists to the West and bringing Western performers for shows in China, sees the festival as a way to promote and preserve the exquisite art form.
Founded in 1991, Wu Promotion produces around 500 concerts and events every year, in China and abroad. One of their best-known projects is the annual overseas tour of traditional Chinese orchestras during Spring Festival.
The current event in Australia is the eighth tour of the Peking Opera Festival by the Jingju Theater Company of Beijing and Wu Promotion.
Back in 2012, after the theater troupe worked with the National Center for the Performing Arts to stage the Peking Opera production, Red Cliff, adapted from the 14th-century novel Romance of the Three Kingdoms, by Luo Guanzhong, Wu joined hands with the Jingju Theater Company and the National Center for the Performing Arts, to take the show to Europe, where it was staged at the Vienna Burgtheater, Hungarian State Opera House and National Theatre Prague.
Later the same year, Wu Promotion supported the Jingju Theater Company’s tours of Germany and Italy.
In 2013, the troupe toured the Netherlands and Austria.
Meanwhile, to celebrate the 120th birth anniversary of Peking Opera master Mei Lanfang (1894-1961), who is credited with introducing the art form to Western audiences with his debut performance in the United States in 1930, the troupe performed in New York and Washington in 2013.
The festival has also traveled to Russia, Brazil and Switzerland, and has, so far, attracted more than 50,000 viewers.
“We want the tour to become a brand, like our annual overseas tour of traditional Chinese orchestras during Spring Festival, which has been running for 18 years,” says Wu.
During each tour, before the performers appear on stage, a moderator explains the basics of Peking Opera in the local language, he says.
The audience then learn how to tell from the music what is happening on stage, the meaning of certain gestures and how a 1,000 mile trip can be done with a few simple movements.
As for the response to the festival, Li says: “We have had a lot of success when we perform in other countries.”
Recalling a show in Rio during the troupe’s tour of Brazil in 2013, he says: “I asked the audience through a translator if they could understand the piece we had just performed.”
A middle-aged man then stood up and told him how he understood the piece, One Good Turn Deserves Another.
“I was glad that though there were just symbolic movements and a language barrier, we had got the message across to the audience,” Li adds.
Top: A Peking Opera artist from the Jingju Theater Company of Beijing performs in the United States in 2013. Above left: Late Peking Opera artist Mei Baojiu, son of Peking Opera master Mei Lanfang, went on stage after a US performance in 2013. Above center: A performer paints his face for a role before a show. Above right: Audience members meet a Peking Opera player during the troupe’s tour in Brazil.