Over the next three months, Contemporary Legend Theater (當代傳奇劇場) will be stationed at the Auditorium of the Chiang Kai-shek Memorial Hall for over 60 performances in its Legend Opera II series. This is a new format for the theatrical group, mixing up straight performances of Beijing opera classics with modernized shows aimed at appealing to a younger audience. More importantly, some of the shows will be performed by young performers who have aspirations to become the next generation of Beijing opera stars.
Wu Hsing-kuo (吳興國), the founder of Contemporary Legend, has been fearless in finding ways to put Beijing opera in front of audiences outside the tight niche of elderly opera aficionados. With Legend Opera II, he has divided up the task into four sections, attacking various fronts of the problem he sees before him.
Tonight, for example, young Contemporary Legend alumni Dai Li-wu (戴立吾) and Chien Yu-shan (錢宇珊) will feature in the classic story of Wu Sung (武松), the fierce and guileless warrior, and Pan Chin-lien (潘金蓮), a deceitful woman with whom he becomes infatuated. Both Dai and Chien are experienced performers of the younger generation who have followed Wu in his experimental work, but who also have a solid foundation in traditional opera. Other classic shows include Kuan Yu, Military Saint (武聖關公), starring Wu in the leading role and veteran performer Liu Zhuo-yu (劉琢瑜) as Cao Cao (曹操), the general who attempts to seduce Kuan Yu from the path of righteousness. Wu said that he wanted to include top name talent performing an established repertoire to cater to and maintain credibility with conservative opera lovers.
Wu made a name for himself and Contemporary Legend with a series of highly successful adaptations of Shakespearean plays and Greek tragedies, earning a reputation as a bold innovator in the process. Now, looking at the state of Beijing opera, with its small number of aging stars and a conspicuous dearth of young talent, he said it was of the utmost importance that traditional works were not ignored. These not only show audiences the expressive power of the medium, but also give younger performers like Dai and Chien, the chance to perform established roles.
What: The Legend Opera II series
When: Today 7:30pm Wu Sung and Pan Chin-lien (武松與潘金蓮)
■ Tomorrow 7:30pm Kuan Yu, Military Saint (武聖關公) sold out
■ Sunday 2:30pm: Shue Ping-guei and Wang Bao-chuan (王寶釧與薛平貴)
■ Wednesday and Thursday at 7:30pm: B.Box of Brother and Sister II (B.Box兄妹串戲II ─ 那一年，我們都挨打)
Where: Auditorium of the Chiang Kai-shek Memorial Hall, 21 Zhongshan S Rd, Taipei City (台北市中山南路21號)
Tickets are NT$500 to NT$1,500, For performances through to December and ticket purchase, see the NTCH ticketing Website at www.artsticket.com
Subtitles: In Chinese, English and Japanese
While the classics are important to Wu, he realizes that there is a need to do something more, and this is the inspiration for two of the most important elements in the series: New Havoc in the Dragon Palace (新．鬧龍宮) and B.Box of Brother and Sister II (B.Box兄妹串戲II ─ 那一年，我們都挨打). The former has Dai performing as the engaging Monkey King, a role that provides plenty of opportunity for a young performer with its emphasis on physical comedy and acrobatics. The latter is a follow up on a bold project to use Beijing opera in a modern comedy.
“Actually, the story for B.Box and many of the clowning techniques are very traditional,” Wu said. Wu has proved a master of finding traditional material ripe for adaptation. As for the clowning, Wu said “many of these techniques have fallen out of circulation for historical reasons. When Beijing opera was just a regional opera, you could do anything on stage, but when it was adopted as a National Opera (國劇), clowning and foolery were seen as inappropriate, and were not practiced or performed as much.” Wu said that B.Box was a great way of reviving comic styles; and by combining this with contemporary youth humor and music, it created a broad appeal. “Of course I provide some direction, but I can’t be expected to choreograph a hip hop segment. I leave that to the young people,” Wu said.