An exhibition, at downtown Beijing’s Star Theater, presents Peking Opera through contemporary arts.
Bringing together about 40 works from 9 Chinese artists focusing on the old art form, the exhibition, which kicked off on Nov 14 and runs until Dec 24, is part of the ongoing Xiqu Opera Black Box Festival.
According to Guan Qi, curator of the exhibition, since 2017, the exhibition aims at bringing ancient Chinese operas closer to audiences, especially young people interested in contemporary arts.
Xiqu means local opera. This year, the festival focuses on Peking Opera, since this year marks the 230th anniversary of the birth of the art form.
Peking Opera, or jingju, has a history of more than 200 years and was recognized as an Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity by UNESCO in 2010. It brings together art forms such as singing, dancing, martial arts and acrobatics. The performances are characterized by elaborate movements, extravagant makeup and high-pitched singing.
In 1790, four famous Anhui Opera troupes came to Beijing to celebrate the 80th birthday of Emperor Qianlong of the Qing Dynasty (1644-1911). In around 1840, Peking Opera began to formally take shape, growing rapidly during the reign of Empress Dowager Cixi (1835-1908), an ardent Chinese opera lover. After this, the art form went from strength to strength, with troupes being formed in Beijing, Tianjin and Shanghai.
“We started to prepare for this exhibition a year ago. At least 80 percent of the artists, whose art pieces are being displayed during the exhibition, have worked with us before. They used different art forms to tell stories about Peking Opera, such as oil paintings, traditional Chinese ink paintings and installations,” says Guan, who is an independent curator.
“Many young artists have less knowledge about Peking Opera. We invited them to watch Peking Opera shows, let them observe and talk to Peking Opera performers backstage. It’s a research process for them, which is very rewarding,” says Guan.
One of the art pieces on display is an installation by artist Huang Sida, which combines oil paintings portraying the scenes of the four Anhui Opera troupes coming to Beijing and a Chinese drum, which is usually used in the band accompanying Peking Opera performances. What intrigues the audiences is sparkling salt crystals spread under the drum. According to Guan, it indicates the fact that salt businessmen played an important role of financially supporting the Anhui Opera troupes to Beijing then.
Artist Li Yuerou, who has her work displayed in the exhibition series for the first time, also portrays the scene of the four Anhui Opera troupes coming to Beijing with a 10-meter-long scroll digital painting.
A highlight of the exhibition is a traditional Chinese ink painting by 82-year-old artist Li Wenpei. The painting portrays the legendary Tang Dynasty (618-907) concubine Yang Yuhuan in the classic Peking Opera piece, The Drunken Concubine. Peking Opera master Mei Lanfang (1894-1961) was known for playing the role and hailed as the “Four Great Dan” in the history of the art.
Mei Baojiu (1934-2016), the son of Mei Lanfang, who also played the role, wrote an inscription in calligraphy on the painting, praising the painter’s techniques. Li, used to work as a stage designer at China National Peking Opera Company for four decades.
There are 18 stage photos of Peking Opera masters, including Mei Lanfang, Tan Fuying (1906-1977) and Li Shaochun (1919-1975), from a photo studio in Tianjin during the 1940s, displayed in the exhibition. According to Guan, since Star Theater has been dedicated to presenting Chinese traditional operas, the theater has collected a number of old photos of Chinese opera artists.
Teachers from National Academy of Chinese Theater Arts have made two animations based on classic Peking Opera stories: Shi Qian Dao Bao, which is about thief Shi Qian, a fictional character from the 14th-century Chinese classic novel Water Margin by Shi Nai’an, and San Cha Kou, which presents a fight between two men in the darkness.
“We try to capture the essence of Peking Opera with the latest animation technology, which is a way to attract young fans,” says Ma Chi, who is a teacher of New Media Arts department of National Academy of Chinese Theatre Arts. Last year, along with his students, Ma displayed an animation work based on classic Kunqu Opera piece, The Peony Pavilion.”
Courtesy: China Daily