It seems like just yesterday since the first opening night, but our Rising Stars of Cantonese Opera series is already into its fourth edition. This summer’s showcase is also the last before the Xiqu Centre officially opens, and I would like to share with you our thoughts at this juncture.
The first West Kowloon Bamboo Theatre series was organised in 2012, and won critical acclaim on its return the following year. To live up to audience expectations, we worked hard to incorporate new elements in our programming strategies. Along with renowned local Cantonese opera stars, we were honoured to welcome the talented artists of the Plum Blossom Award Art Troupe onto our Hong Kong stage. Furthermore, in order to provide young artists with a platform for sharing and exchange, and to discover new talent for the next generation of performing artists for Cantonese Opera, we organised the Rising Stars in Cantonese Opera Showcase during its run. Through the event, we selected eleven “Rising Stars”, and the eponymous series was officially inaugurated.
Excerpt Performance:Mu Guiying’s Marriage Proposal
I still remember the obstacles we had to overcome when we were preparing for the first showcase series three years ago. How should we train the emerging artists? What yardstick should we use to measure their performance? Everything was at an exploratory stage, and things were pretty much “played by ear”. We produced the programmes and trained the performers cautiously and with some trepidation. Although there were many challenges, the generous mentorship of veterans from the performing arts and cultural sectors enabled us to learn, and to overcome the obstacles we faced. In just three short years, this group of budding Cantonese opera artists have shown steady progress and growth. To our immense delight and gratification, some now even shine on stage in lead roles.
The Lady's Sash
The rejuvenation of Chinese traditional theatre cannot rely on the youth and good looks of the actors alone. To attract new audiences, we also have to “think outside of the box”, and in the past four editions of Rising Stars performances we have tried the following: commissioning seasoned Cantonese opera artist Law Ka-ying as artistic curator to oversee the general artistic standard of the performances; emphasising the importance of rehearsals to ensure that the singing, recitation, acting and martial arts skills of each performer meets professional standards; and establishing a well-rounded repertoire that includes both epic pieces that uphold patriotism and heroic sacrifice for the country, such as Madame She, The Immortal Zhang Yuqiao, and Mu Guiying Routing Hongzhou, and those with romantic storylines, such as Loyal to Love and the comedy A Perfect Match. With such a comprehensive coverage of civil and martial roles, our budding artists are able to showcase their personal strengths to the full. Law Ka-ying has also curated special programmes to teach the young performers classic paichangxi (improvised formulaic plays) to give them a deeper understanding and appreciation and help them in their role as preservers of this heritage.
Excerpt Performances:The Phoenix Pavilion
As Cantonese opera is a traditional performing art form, troupes tend to also be run in a traditional way. To make adjustments for modern practices, we have attempted to merge aspects of Western stage management with the conventions of traditional troupes. By gleaning the best from both worlds, and through modern system management, we hope to add to the charm and beauty of the traditional genre. Regarding house programmes, we have put equal emphasis on knowledge and interest, incorporating informational trivia, special feature articles and so on, to help first-time viewers understand and appreciate a Cantonese opera performance. Indeed, all of our efforts have been geared towards expanding the audience base for the xiqu art form.
A Perfect Match
Looking back, I am happy to see that the West Kowloon Xiqu Centre has not only provided performance opportunities for the next generation of Chinese traditional theatre artists, but has also actively explored future development directions. I would like to give my sincere thanks to the then panel of judges, comprising Ms Wan Fai-yin, Mr Danny Li Chi-kei, Mr Ng Chin-fung, Mr Sun Kim-long, Dr Fredric Mao Chun-fai, Ms Cheung Man-wai, Dr Cham Lai Suk-ching and Mr Law Ka-ying, Artistic Curator of all editions of Rising Stars showcase.