explorASIAN Festival Blog

Wednesday, June 4, 2008



The Vancouver premiere of this UNESCO Masterpiece of the Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity will present five scenes from the classical repertoire. Included are excerpts from such renowned works as The Peony Pavilion (1598) and The Palace of Long Life(late 17th Century). Opera stars from Shanghai collaborate with members of theVancouver Chinese Music Ensemble as well as New York-based musicians. Kunqu is the oldest form of traditional Chinese theatre still performed today. Incorporating melodious singing with intricate dance, it is a truly comprehensive theatre art.

UBC and the Vancouver Society for Chinese Performing Arts present SCENES FROM KUNJU: CHINA'S CLASSICAL THEATRE By Tang Xianzu et al English subtitles and program


June 16 (The Peony Pavilion, The Lute Song, Lanke Mountain) 7:30pm
June 17 (The Palace of Eternal Youth andThe Butterfly Dream) 7:30pm

Tickets: $17/per evening @ Ticketmaster outlets/phone/online (plus s/c & fees)

Full Details at:

explorASIAN is a Community Partner for this special premiere presentation

Kunqu is the oldest and most literary style of traditional Chinese theatre performed today. It is a synthesis of drama, opera, ballet, poetry recital, and musical recital, which also draws on earlier forms of Chinese theatrical performances such as mime, farce, acrobatics, ballad recital, and medley.

Each word or phrase is also expressed by a stylized movement or gesture that is essentially part of a dance, with strict rules of style and execution much like classical ballet. Even casual gestures must be precisely executed and timed to coordinate with the music and percussion. The refinement of the movement is further enhanced with stylized costumes that also serve as simple props. In a Kunqu performance, three media work simultaneously and in harmony to convey the meaning and desired aesthetic effect: music, words, and dance. An accomplished Kunqu performer must master the special styles of singing and dance movement to convey the meaning. There are two, easily distinguished, styles of text and music. Arias, which are sung and accompanied by the orchestra, are elaborate poems of high literary quality. Prose passages (monologues and dialogues) are neither sung nor spoken but chanted in a stylized fashion comparable to the recitative of Western opera.

Once so popular that a troupe resided in the Forbidden Palace, Kunqu’s literary refinement and high technical demands caused a decline in late dynastic and modern times. Though recognised as a UNESCO Masterpiece of World Heritage, the Kunqu tradition remains under threat, though interest in this invaluable heritage is being renewed among China’s younger generations.

All three performers belong to a legendary generation of Kunqu artists from the Shanghai stage, born in the early forties and dominating the stage in the years after restrictions on the Chinese stage relaxed in the early 1980s. As a group, they represent a direct link between the present-day and the pre-modern tradition.

Liang Guyin (female role) is a National Performer of the PRC, 1st class and a winner of the highest prize awarded to Chinese theatre performers, the Plum Blossom Prize. Trained by pre-revolutionary masters of the art, she has thrilled three generations of audiences with roles ranging from runaway nuns to betrayed women. Considered a consummate master of stage movement, her emotional versatility has brought her acclaim in both the comic and tragic repertoires. Her performances have earned her accolades at home and abroad, with memorable performances including Sackler Museum of Art, the University of Michigan and the Chicago Cultural Center, as well as tours of Japan and Scandinavia.

Ji Zhenhua (old man role) has earned a reputation for having one of Kunqu’s great voices. In the solemn roles Kunqu assigns to older men, he has appeared as avenging magistrates, severe fathers, emperors and chroniclers of history. Since the end of the Cultural Revolution, he has built an unparalleled reputation in his role-type, earning, among other awards, the Plum Blossom Prize and being names National Performer of the PRC, 1st class. His innovative interpretation of Macbeth in the first production of a Kunqu Shakespeare play earned him nationwide attention.

Liu Yilong (clown) is one of the traditional stage’s greatest living clowns. Excelling in both good-natured and villainous roles, he has single-handedly brought about a revival in Kunqu’s comedic side. Renowned for his mastery of dialect and comic timing, Mr Liu has earned a great following among fans. And as a National Performer of the PRC, he has worked hard to ensure that a new generations of fans keeps Kunqu fans laughing.