Friday, 23 October 2015

Developing An Interest In Chinese Opera

       The might of the camera lens stirred my fascination in an old Chinese art that had never piqued my interest.

Backstage preparation
Getting ready
"Fa Dan" in the making

Demure beauty
Seasoned beauty
Pondering over upcoming performance
Deep in his thoughts

Casting his spell on the audience

The "tuk tuk chiang" or Chinese opera is one of the oldest dramatic art performances in the world, and also plays an integral role in Chinese culture. However, due to a lack of exposure to it as well as an inability to understand the dialogue, the Chinese opera has never made me throw a second glance….till now. At the recommendation of some photographer friends, hubby braved the crowds to venture to the recently concluded Nine Emperor Gods Festival at Ipoh's Tow Boo Keong Temple. I was hiding at home from the haze, secretly glad that he did not drag me along. But the photos that he came back with made me stop in my tracks and propelled me to learn more about the Chinese opera.
The facial make-up of the performers must be the highlight of the shows.The painstaking process of painting the faces has the power to portray a character's personality, role and fate. A red face represents loyalty and bravery while black can symbolise valour or evil. Besides colour, the lines or patterns drawn also hold their meaning. To the uninitiated like me, some of these colours and patterns may not mean much but to the ardent fans, they can immediately tell who's who.
The astounding acrobatics that accompany the opera performance is another much-awaited part. All that prancing around in tune to the music, sword brandishing, somersaulting or making fire spray out of their mouths are the result of years of arduous apprenticeship. "One minute's performance on the stage takes ten years' practice behind the scenes" is a popular saying among opera performers.
I remember my mother telling me how she used to tag along with my maternal grandmother to watch the opera shows in the late 1940s and early 1950s at the Jubilee Park, Ipoh. As a little girl, my mother did not quite understand the shows but to be able to go there with her mother, it was a treat.
Jubilee Park, which was once THE amusement centre for Ipoh folks (it was also famous for being the cabaret where the famous Rose Chan striptease acts were held), has long stopped operating. Part of it now is used as a car park and another section has been turned into Sensation Of Sound, one of Ipoh's hottest nightspots.
All the Chinese opera performances that once brought so much delight to the Ipoh folks too would have been forgotten. And it would be sad if the glory of Chinese opera slowly diminishes, stays buried in the trove of Chinese culture, only to be dug up for annual performances in tandem with Chinese festivals.

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