Beijing Opera

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Yr 11 Term 4
Beijing Opera Seminar

Beijing Opera or Peking Opera has a history of over 200years and is believed to of begun in 1790 during the reign of Emperor Qianlong. During his 55th reign the four largest Huiban opera troupes, consisting of 360 individual types of operas, combined. After a century of evolving the Beijing Opera was formed as an opera that best represented all of the operas in China. Beijing Opera became a blend of music, art, acrobatics, dance and martial arts. With many astonishing characteristics including beautiful paintings, graceful gestures, exquisite costumes and then the support of an imperial follower, Beijing Opera rapidly became one of the most popular forms of theatre for its time. The years 1917 to 1937 was a time of rapid blooming for the newborn opera. However the following decade saw a sad decline in the Opera’s popularity as the People’s Republic of China began. Later on in the 1980's, Beijing Opera managed to resurrect itself once again to become even more vigorous and entertaining than before. To the people, Beijing Opera is a national treasure, with the significant richness of repertoire, a great number of artists and a committed audience, I found it easy to understand the deep influence and honor that it holds in the Chinese culture, with one of the world’s most oldest and complex cultures. On my arrival I found China’s lifestyle to be very simple and modest, with the country side mostly rural oriented to accommodate for the 1.2billion population.

The Dramatic Meaning in many traditional theatre groups is a theme, message or idea being represented in a performance. The dramatic meaning of Beijing Opera is to present the audience with an “encyclopedia of Chinese culture,” (Anonymous) all of which it thoroughly displays. The dramatic languages, in Beijing Opera consist of, skills of performance, elements of drama and styles and their conventions which are used in combination with diverse and socially critical reflections in order to assist in the creation of this dramatic meaning for the Chinese culture.

There are strong ideologies depicted in Beijing Opera, as mentioned before, traditions and pride, harmony and balance with nature and simplicity. Beijing Opera is very basic in it’s conventions of props and staging. Even though its brightly decorated costumes and ancient perfected movements may sound extravagant, the Chinese culture is actually well known for its ideology of simplicity. Because of the large population of people and the small amount of living space, the Chinese don’t live an excessive life, which is why they try to survive with their natural surrounding as much as possible, in their home as well as on the stage. The convention and elements of drama of symbolism prevail in Beijing Opera as the stage knows no limits in regards to the elements of drama; space and time. The stage has a simple design of a traditional square platform that can be viewed from at least three sides with the stage being divided into two parts by an embroidered curtain or shoujiu and the musicians being visible to the audience on the front part of the stage. A convention of Beijing Opera is that the audience will always be seated south of the stage, as north is the most important direction in Beijing Opera. Likewise, the actors will always enter from the east and exit from the west. A Chinese ideology and convention of tradition that reflects seven centuries of Chinese performance, is their simplicity of using very few props, which will generally be a table and at least one chair – the setting for any action, thus keeping in line with the highly symbolic convention of nature and simplicity in Beijing Opera. A convention of props used in Beijing Opera is that the presence of large objects will often be signified by minor objects. The table and chair can be turned through convention into various objects; like a mountain, city wall or bed. The performer’s...
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