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Traditional and modern art checks its script for directions

The Asian theatre is facing a crossroads and can take one of two directions.
 
It can modernise its traditional music-based theatre. Or it can embrace modem - and chiefly spoken drama — which could make it heavily reliant on Western influences.
 
Viet Nam traditionally has four scenic forms: the popular opera cheo, the classical opera tuong, the renovated theatre cai luong (musical) and the modern drama kich (spoken drama).
 
The last two are products of the French colonial regime, of the 1920s while the others belong to the traditional theatre. Efforts at modemisation, for that read westernisation, are aimed at the cheo and tuong and also the cai  luong, a hybrid of traditional and modern. The question is how to renovae them while preserving their traditional stamp to meet the needs of a public already accustomed to the rhythms provided by TV, cinema, rock and jazz.
 
At an international seminar in the capital in October, Chinese professor and actor Jing Liu reported on his experiences in modernising the Chinese traditional opera Xiqu (Hi khuc).
 
That has over 300 varieties including the flagship Peking Opera and the kunqui ( Con khuc). This traditional theatre which has a 800-year history has affirmed itself as a classical genre thanks to the contributions of philosophy literature and aesthetics. In return, it has exerted a considerable influence Chinese culture.
 
It’s an all-embracing art combining staging, music, poetry, dance, martial arts and acrobatics. It uses a language of conventions and symbols far from western realism. Its movements and gestures draw from reality oatyt be transformed by stylisation and conventions which demand public participation, collaboration and imagination.
 
The simple gesture of opening an imaginary door consists of two movements: the actor will turn the latch - then pull the shutter. It is the same fa-other gestures, all conventional. Chinese traditional theatre reached its artistic maturity with its very rigorous system of rules. However, as is the case with any other artistic forms, it has had to evolve and renew itself to stay fresh.
 
It means Xiqu artists have never stopped improving. Mei Lan Fang, of the Peking Opera specialised in feminine roles. At first, playing young servants, he strictly observed the tradition of wearing a long-sleeved robe. He finally broke from this long-sleeve obligation; the short sleeves helped him to enrich the gestures of feminine characters.
 
The history of Xiqu is related through songs and dances with every gesture accompanied by a dance to match the action with the psychology of the character.
 
Jing Liu has also enriched Xiqu by adding elements borrowed from other artistic forms including ballet, popular dance and martial arts. Taking the 
female role of Yan Xijao in the play Haunted the Ghost (Huo Zhuan), on the basis of the traditional stylised dance, he freely introduces movements and rhythms of modern ballet, which helps stylise the steps of the ghost using the points of his feet and creating the impression of floating on the cloud, to quicken the pace.
 
In Loss of the Treasure, the martial art contest scene involves the actor using a double-sided hammer to display his acrobatic virtuosity and to make his weapon glitter on stage.
 
Discover traditional Vietnamese art through Vietnam Cambodia 3 weeks itinerary.
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Update : 03-08-2017

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