Message from West Kowloon’s Executive Director of Performing Arts
As well as providing Hong Kong with both a world-class arts venue specifically built for xiqu performances, and a centre for production, education and research, the Xiqu Centre will help preserve and reinvent Cantonese opera and other Chinese traditional theatre for local and international audiences.
In anticipation of the Xiqu Centre’s opening in 2018, we currently run various activities inspired by this art form. Since 2012, our iconic festival West Kowloon Bamboo Theatre has offered a mix of Chinese theatre performance, dance and music and has been warmly received. The Xiqu Centre Seminar Series provides a platform for artists and academics to explore and share how xiqu can be developed regionally, and contributes to the artistic strategies for the centre. Rising Stars of Cantonese Opera is a continuation of our effort to cultivate a pool of young talents.
Rising Stars of Cantonese Opera is a capacity-building programme designed to help pass on the legacy of Cantonese opera by offering professional development training to emerging actors. The programme aims to promote and develop the art, enhance local professional standards, and introduce the art form to a wider, younger audience. We openly recruited fourteen and seven emerging Cantonese opera actors in 2014 and 2015 respectively. Under the guidance of veteran actors, they received professional training.
While last year’s performances showed epic battle scenes, Rising Stars of Cantonese Opera II explores the theme of love. The three feature plays require the actors to pay rigorous attention not just to action and singing, but also to emoting and characterisation, a scope that provides them with holistic training.
Our twenty one Rising Stars are Wang Zhiliang, Wong Hai Wing, Wang Kit Ching, Man Lai Ha, Ruan Dewen, Johnson Yuen, Song Hongbo, Li Pui Yan, Lin Xinling, Hong Hai, Lao Yu Fung, Chan Kei Ting, Liu Hong Wah, Janet Wong, Zeng Suxin, Liu Li, Cannon Au, Dianna Tse, Doris Kwan, Alan Tam Wing Lun and Juliana Kwan.
We’re planning to hold an open recruitment for more emerging actors in 2019. We really look forward to meeting more talents.
Louis Yu Kwok-lit
Executive Director of Performing Arts, West Kowloon Cultural District Authority
Message from Artistic Curator Law Ka-ying
It is a great honour and pleasure for me to collaborate once again with the Performing Arts team at the West Kowloon Cultural District Authority (WKCDA) to present the Rising Stars of Cantonese Opera II showcase. This is the second time that I have worked with WKCDA as artistic curator and helped to pass on the legacy of this traditional art form to my successors. Being some thirty years senior than the fourteen rising stars participating in the show this year, I hope I can impart some of the collective insights and experience of the older generation of artists, to help these emerging actors prepare for future performances at West Kowloon’s soon-to-be-completed Xiqu Centre.
The objective of the Rising Stars series is to mentor emerging Cantonese opera talents. While the 2015 programme featured action-oriented performances, the three feature productions this year emphasise emoting and acting, aspects that require a higher level of performance technique. In Loyal to Love, for example, a play based on a true husband and wife story dating back to the Eastern Han Dynasty, dramatic elements are used to highlight the Chinese concept of ethics. When his love for his first wife is tested, the husband, protagonist Song Hong, says, “Forget not the friend made in poverty and amidst misfortunes, and desert not the wife who stayed loyal through the hardest days.” Song’s noble devotion, a concept stronger than the modern notion of romantic love, is the central theme of the story, as he would rather die than be unfaithful and take a second wife. In terms of performance, the focus is on the beautifully executed and emotionally-charged vocal and acting skills of the two lead actors in Qingyi (virtuous lady) and Wenwusheng (male lead) roles. And it is worth noting these aspects for a better appreciation and enjoyment of the performances.
The Lady’s Sash is an adaptation of a Peking opera play by the late Tong Tik-sang, renowned Hong Kong librettist. One of Tong’s earlier works, it has a strong cinematic touch in terms of vocalisation, delivery and percussive points. The plot is also particularly well-written, recounting the story of a wrongful conviction passed by an upright but biased magistrate in an alleged murder case involving a silk sash. The story is driven by the actions of two contrasting male leads, one in a military role, the other a civilian. A pivotal scene is the court trial, a common feature of Cantonese opera, but one that is distinguished here by the staging. The melodies and characterisation allow the actors ample scope to show their virtuosity. As the convoluted plot unfolds, the human blunders, misunderstandings, conflicts and contradictions are expertly brought to life in this splendid production.
The Immortal Zhang Yuqiao is a popular opera based on historical events in southern China. Notable for its Qing period costumes, something quite rare in Hong Kong productions, it is also a classic performance in the repertoire of Hong Kong’s Cantonese opera diva Fong Yim Fun. The tale describes how Zhang is coerced into becoming the concubine of the surrendering Ming general Li Chengdong after her lover, Ming loyalist Chen Zizhuang, is defeated and killed in battle. Zhang’s sorrow is only lifted when she sees a play set in the Ming era that inspires her to incite Li to revolt against Qing rule. Although Li’s mutiny is ultimately unsuccessful, Zhang’s skilful ability to influence his actions makes a compelling story.
As Cantonese opera evolves with the times, its unique qualities should be safeguarded and enhanced, and the classics revitalised and given new strength. In the past, when stage equipment for traditional Chinese theatre was less sophisticated than it is today, especially sound equipment, the emphasis was more on ‘acting’ than ‘singing’. But in Hong Kong today, people have begun to regard ‘singing’ as the core aspect of the performance. This year, the showcase aims to refocus the actors’ and the audience’s attention on ‘acting’ by injecting emotion into the basic skills and stylised movements. During rehearsals, too, the performers have been encouraged to experiment and learn. Another challenge posed by the three productions is their relatively large casts, which require complex staging arrangements.
To make a rising star shine, we need the support of the audience, the guidance and experience of seasoned artists in the field, and rigorous training programmes. By providing a platform for our emerging talents, Rising Stars of Cantonese Opera II demonstrates the ongoing commitment of the Cantonese opera fraternity and the Xiqu Centre to jointly develop and promote this heritage art form. The ultimate goal of the endeavour is to nurture the next generation of performers, helping rising stars become dazzling artists who can draw the audience into the spellbinding world of Chinese traditional theatre.