Wednesday, October 12, 2005

Arts and Action

To Beijing Arts University for a session with Zhao Lihua and two other Beijing opera performers: another woman called Hali who plays male roles, and a young man called Manyi who performs the dan (female) parts. It's fascinating to watch total gender reversal like this: the girls sport long beards (even with their jeans and T-shirts) and Manyi minces magnificently. What's intriguing is how difficult they find it to improvise anything, either within their own style or in a more naturalistic mode. I suppose this is the Chinese tradition of taking everything from the master.

In the taxi, Megxuan asks me if I've heard about the Tiananmen Square masacre. "Of course", I say. It turns out that she, who is now 22 and a post-graduate, first heard about this last week. She's amazed to hear that it was news at all in the West, never mind that it now dominates our thinking about China. Most Chinese, she's convinced, don't know it even happened, and those that do (like her parents' generation, perhaps) have decided it's safer not to know.

Between all this, I fit in a trip to the Great Wall and a visit to the Lama Temple: the home of Tibetan Buddhism in Beijing. The monks are engaged in a complex ritual which looks like a debate punctuated by powerful clapping. This place, like the Forbidden City, was saved from destruction in the Cultural Revolution by the intervention of Premier Zhou Enlai. He also loved the traditional art forms, and was a dan actor in his youth......

1 comment:

helen said...

I'm intrigued by your project in China although I haven't been able to make much sense of it. What was the objective, what were the outcomes, what happened before and after?

My name is Helen. I'm a Chinese-Canadian theatre-maker. I work with a professional Canadian Peking opera nan dan performer as his dramaturg and former manager.

I would love to know more about your work as it relates to the trip to China. Please get in touch at