- A Dialogue Between Sichuan and Beijing Opera
Goodwill and cultural exchange were the ends; the arts were the means. This production, A Dialogue between Sichuan and Beijing Opera, was a showcase of dances and songs excerpted from various operas. David Wong, founder of the Texas Performing Chinese Arts Association—a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization established in 1990 to promote diversity and understanding among ethnic groups through musical performance and cultural arts, especially those of China and the United States—developed the event at the bequest of the Dallas Office of Cultural Affairs. The goal of this production was not only to help bridge the gap between East and West, but also to increase the international perspective of the region. It was performed at several venues in the Dallas area as well as a single showing in Lubbock made possible through the cooperation of the Association of Chinese Students and Scholars in Lubbock, an organization based at Texas Tech University.
David Wong is an alumnus of the University of Central Oklahoma and the recipient of the fourteenth annual Golden Eagle Award from Tamkang University in Taiwan. According to his website, the mission of Wong's organization is to unite top young performing artists from across the United States as ambassadors of goodwill, and to foster communication and understanding [End Page 370] between nations and cultures through performance. The group features two major youth orchestras, the North America Elite Youth Orchestra (NAEYO) and the Asian-American International Orchestra. The NAEYO has performed at Carnegie Hall in New York City and the National Concert Hall in Taipei, and has completed several tours that traveled to Singapore, Taiwan, and Beijing. The orchestra also has a Taiwan-based sister organization, the International Elite Youth Orchestra. In addition to these orchestral programs, the Texas Performing Chinese Arts Association offers classes in pipa, erhu, and other instruments; Chinese painting and calligraphy; Chinese folk dance and martial arts; and Western piano, violin, and viola. Another aspect of the organization is the contracting of Asian artists to perform in the Dallas area, and occasionally elsewhere in the state, as part of a cultural goodwill program; A Dialogue between Sichuan and Beijing Opera is one such presentation.
Production elements consisted of a bare stage and simple lighting, with the performers from Chengdu and Beijing wearing the brightly colored costumes. In keeping with the intercultural aims of the tour, announcers introduced each portion of the performance in English and Mandarin. A special treat was a brief on-stage interview with the Beijing Opera actress Lu Tong, who teaches jingju at the Beijing Opera School and the College of Chinese Music in Beijing. She mentioned the theoretical and practical interplay of Stan islavski and Brecht with jingju and gave a short history of the form. This provided theatre education for the audience, although the translation was not always clear.
The evening commenced with an excerpt from the Sichuan Opera (chuanju) Life Is Beautiful, performed by Chen Li, a 1994 graduate of the College of Sichuan Opera who specializes in the dan role. She began her performance with a cappella singing, followed by a beautiful dance to recorded accompaniment. She used long feathers from her headdress in a graceful and expressive fashion.
Lu Tong then returned to perform as Yang Guifei in an excerpt from The Drunken Concubine by Mei Lanfang, whose performances were a key influence in the development of Brecht's theories. In watching Lu's performance, the stylistic elements that Brecht noted in his writings on the alienation effect in Chinese acting were clear. There was the direct connection between the performer and the audience—no fourth wall. The primarily Chinese audience reflected this directness by taking flash photographs during the performance, while at the same time the off stage actors could be seen sneaking photographs of the audience from the wings—a fascinating situation that begged the question, does the audience watch the performers, or do the performers watch the audience? In this instance...