Peking Opera performance in Washington popularizes Chinese art

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The contemporary artistic descendants of China's Peking Opera master Mei Lanfang staged a gala performance at Kennedy Center in Washington Wednesday evening, bringing the audience closer to the ancient Chinese opera art.

Chinese artists from Beijing Peking Opera Troupe and Mei Lanfang Peking Opera Troupe, which is run by Mei Baojiu, son of Mei Lanfang, staged excerpts from five operas based on classic plays of the Mei Performing School. They will perform the whole play of "Lady Mu Guiying Takes Command," a masterpiece of Mei Lanfang, on Thursday at Kennedy Center.

Peking Opera, which is regarded as a quintessence of the Chinese culture and is known for its lavishly embroidered costumes and colorful makeup, has evolved into the most representative and most influential stage art in China and is now best known as the "National Opera."

The tour of the art troupes, which were in New York last week, marks the 120th anniversary of the birth of Mei Lanfang, known as one of the greatest Peking Opera reformer and educator. He died in 1961.

Mei Lanfang was also the first Chinese actor to present Peking Opera outside China. He toured the United States in 1930, visiting New York, Chicago and San Francisco.

Top performers of Peking Opera in China are following Mei's footprints by taking a tour at home and abroad.

Mei Baojiu, who is now 80 years old and has over 50 years of stage experience, has passed his father's spirit and techniques on to his students, both male and female, and also performs during the current tour.

He has carefully selected disciples to present his father's masterpieces to the American people.

"Mei School Peking Opera represents an important art system featuring the spirit of Chinese opera culture, as well as the stage art and performance work. All opera works of Mei School consist of comprehensive cultural concepts such as story, acting, singing, dancing and etc," he said prior to the show.

Only a few women performed Peking Opera 100 years ago, but now most artists of Mei School at Mei Lanfang Peking Opera Troupe are women.

Mei Baojiu's students, who performed during the New York and Washington tour, include four women and one man, said Li Enjie, director of Beijing Peking Opera Troupe, adding that "Mei Baojiu teaches them all Mei Lanfang's characteristic works, so they can perpetuate themselves."

Performers of Peking Opera, which first came into being in the late 18th century, must hone four skills: singing, dancing, acting and martial arts.

Mei Lanfang Peking Opera Troupe has modernized its performances in the 21st century with high-tech lighting, sound and English supertitles to help more people understand the ancient art style, Li said.

Cui Tiankai, Chinese ambassador to the United States, watched the performance and said that Mei Lanfang's tour of the United States 84 years ago started an effort to bridge the cultural differences between the East and the West.

This year marks the 35th anniversary of the establishment of China-U.S. diplomatic relations, Cui said, adding the tour will help further promote culture exchanges between the people of the two countries.

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