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Saving stage beauty
Source: China Daily  By: Han Bingbin  Updated: 2011-05-24

Saving stage beauty

In April students at Peking University put on a production of the classic opera, Peony Pavilion.[Photo/China Daily]

Students and teachers at Peking University are committed to keeping Kunqu Opera, one of the world's oldest and most refined art forms.

Crowned as the mother to many forms of Chinese opera, Kunqu Opera has been refined by musicians and literati through hundreds of years until it is now considered one of the world's most precise art forms. However, like many old art forms, the opera style is being crowded out by modern artistic tastes. Experts and teachers have realized that the best way to preserve and promote Kunqu Opera is to rely on the vitality of youth and teach and perform it at colleges.

Peking University launched its Kunqu Opera Inheritance Project in 2009, aiming to spread the word among students within five years through performances, lectures and workshops.

The college also opened a now popular undergraduate course that invites academics to teach the history and aesthetics of the opera form and experienced performers to help students to appreciate the acting in an art form that originated in Kunshan, near Suzhou in Jiangsu province, 2,000 years ago and developed in the early Ming Dynasty (1368-1644).

The Peking University project's biggest achievement was its April 7 performance of the Peony Pavilion(on-campus version), which Pai Hsien-yung, a renowned Taiwan novelist dedicated to promoting Kunqu Opera around the world, praised as "as good as a professional performance". 

Saving stage beauty
Law student Yang Nannan during an audition for Peking University's Peony Pavillion.[Photo/China Daily]

Yang Nannan, a 23-year-old law student at the university from Henan province, was among eight lucky students chosen to perform the famous opera. Even luckier, the untrained Yang got the leading role of Du Liniang.

Before the show, Yang had intensive training in acting, singing and the Suzhou dialect for more than a month from professional actors from Suzhou Kunqu Opera Theater.

Yang's first encounter with Kunqu Opera came in 2006, when more than 2,000 students watched a version of Peony Pavilion, initiated by Pai and performed by actors and musicians under the age of 30. Yang immediately fell in love with it after finding the opera form matched her own understanding of Chinese literary style: abstract, elegant and poetically refined, especially when compared with the better known Peking Opera, which is more straightforward and fiercer in both singing and makeup.

"It made me think that amid the wave of Western values, we should maintain our unique aesthetics," Yang said. "We should pursue a cultural identity that's typically our own."

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