Saturday, March 28, 2009

Grand Lyrical Peking Opera "Battle of the Red Cliff"

"Battle of the Red Cliff" is a newly-produced Peking opera (in grand lyrical style) last year, in conjunction with the opening of the National Centre of the Performing Arts. I'm not sure if this mega-production was a reaction to the widely popular movie "Red Cliff", but I have to say this opera is as grand as the movie, although the artistic direction is not quite the same.

Looking at the pictures of the grand set that this production has, it can be said that this production strayed from the conventional style of Peking opera production which uses the minimalistic and highly abstract style of scenic design, and that is great, because we have come to an age whereby we're constantly stimulated by images, and it is no longer workable trying to portray a dramatic battle scene with just 1 table and 2 chairs, coupled with brightly coloured and intricately embroidered curtains as a backdrop. However, I felt that since the prouduction team had invested so much on the set, they should do likewise about the costuming as well. A brief glance at the performance pictures it's not hard to tell that the characters are still wearing the traditional Peking opera costumes which stood out like a sore thumb. For example, all wen court officials were wearing headgears with long narrow wings behind, a style which was popularised only from Song dynasty onwards, and that's about a thousand years' difference!

Having said that, I believe it is still a production worth watching, although I have no idea if this show can actually hit our shores; the cost of bringing this show in will be quite a lot, and even if it could come to Singapore, the scale of production will be greatly reduced as we might not have the facilities to stage it, not even in Esplanade.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Reports on "Dream of the Lotus Pond" 2

This is another news article on "Dream of the Lotus Pond", but features more of the concept. As I have not seen the actual show, my translation might not be accurate, but here goes anyway:



Traditional "Dream of the Lotus Pond" but Presented in a Non-traditional Way

“Dream of the Lotus Pond” has had a unique style of scenic, costume and character design. The show had a traditional storyline, but the way of staging was unconventional. This is not a narrative story, but a fable tale; it doesn’t tell you what happens, but tells you a moral. The whole show incorporated symbolical and metaphorical elements and surrealistic and stream of consciousness techniques, using frogs, cold moon by the lotus pond and notion of illusions and hallucinations to create the sense of mystery. This, in turn, is a representation of the distorted inner world of the leading characters like Wei Siren and the rest, who were oppressed by the burden of moral values, as well as a reflection of their unredeemable guilt by causing the death of Qin Jingxian. In the opera, the pond is where ghostly events happened, which was also a place where love blossomed and where people ended up in. The pond represents the society. The injection of supernatural entities, fear and illogical reasoning gives the audience not only the sense of supernaturalism, but also create an environment for them to make strong moral judgments. Wu Xiaojiang said that the trust and mistrust among people is a very important issue, and drama, being a good tool to inspire people and help identify problems in life, can help convey this important message through the opera’s central theme of interpersonal relationship in a complex society.

Reports on "Dream of the Lotus Pond"

I am quite glad that someone took interest in my report on "Dream of the Lotus Pond" by Xiamen Municipality Opera Troupe. I'm not sure if I'd have the chance to watch it, but I believe it would be a very different experience. To be honest, how often can one find a Chinese opera performance being stage outside a conventional proscenium setting (successfully)?

I applaud the troupe for taking this bold step to revolutionalise the opera genre. Come to think of it, in the western world of theatre, there had been so many different theatre movements and theatre genres through the centuries, and each movement or genre is a reaction to an existing movement or social changes. However, this notion of theatrical movements doesn't seem to apply for Chinese opera as yet, although I think the Taiwanese counterpart has been quite active trying to break new grounds. In fact, the fate of Chinese opera is quite bad as people find it harder to connect to this traditional art form as generations pass. I believe it is high time all Chinese practitioners sit up and do something about how to go about making Chinese opera more relevant to the contemporary society (and I don't mean blind substitution of the original language with another). If not, it won't take long before Chinese opera will exist only in history books. Perhaps we can emulate what Xiamen Municipality Opera Troupe had done, but of course we still have to keep some of our existing repertoires, not to say totally stripping it of all its essence.

Anyway, here is a report on the performance in the original Chinese version, and an English translated version done by me for the sake of readers who don't understand Chinese. I apologise in advance if my translation do not quite sound right (give me a break, I'm not a journalist or professional translator!)





Unique Performance of "Dream of the Lotus Pond" in a Black Box
A Performance Where the Audience and the Stage Blends into One

8 actors in a production, without completed scenery or dazzling light. The stage and the audience co-exist in the same space, with the whole stage like a lotus pond with big lotus leaves, clear water and floating plants. The relationship between the stage and the audience has been drawn so close, as if the audience had fell into the lotus pond, and that the actors were just performing in front of them, all actions and gestures vividly executed in full view. When Su Yanrong, acting the role of the spirit of Qin Jingxian, appeared on stage with a mask through the audience, a little girl on the first row actually got a fright and hid into the arms of her father.

Xiamen Municipality Opera Troupe’s “Dream of the Lotus Pond” had it’s first open dress rehearsal in the 200-seater experimental theatre last night. On the 19th of this month at 3pm, this production shall be performed at the same venue, as part of the “Cross Straits Folk Arts Festival cum Gezi Opera Showcase”. Audience who turned up last night experienced for themselves the charm of the experimental black box theatre. The stage extended into the audience from two ends, and actors once offstage will be seated among the audience. Every action carried out by the actors could be seen in full view of the audience. The music ensemble was in the audience as well, and actors had to carry out their curtain call in both directors. The audience were not looking through the regular proscenium opening, but watching as though the drama was unfolding right in front of their eyes. “Very intimate, very direct”; this was what many members of the audience felt.

Director Wu Xiaojiang said that through the process of bringing Gezi opera into a black box, this production aimed to explore more contemporary approach to the staging, apart from mere storytelling. Most people tend to have the assumption that a “daxi” (major opera) meant high production cost or big visual spectacle, whereas “xiaoxi” (minor opera) meant productions with a small cast. This is in fact not true, as the theatre is a spatial concept, and the acting environment is just an illusionary world and in practice, any space can be utilized for performance. In the West, the black box represents experimental theatre and many successful productions were created out of black boxes.

Saturday, March 14, 2009

Fang Yuan's version of "The Birthday Banquet"

For those who are into Xiangju would probably know that there's such a troupe called "Fang Yuan" from Zhangzhou. Among the non-government sponsored troupes, they're one the better ones. However, as their target audience is the general folk instead of the theatre-goers, their shows tend to be rather lengthy. There's a clip of the troupe's "The Birthday Banquet", which was originally adapted from the Yueju version by Xiamen Municipality Opera Troupe in the early 80s. As expected, "Fang Yuan" added quite a bit of lines and songs to the original script as well.

For those who find the actress acting the role of Madam Yang familiar, she was the one who acted as Guo Ai in "The Arrogant Princess". I think xiaosheng-turn-laodan actresses tend to have the kind of grand presence that usual laodan lack off. What do you think?