Performance arts are ruled by tradition, but no matter how much one must adhere to tradition, there are times that it must yield to innovation, as the Sin Li Mei Taiwanese Opera Troupe has shown by incorporating circus acrobatics into traditional Taiwanese opera.
The catalyst for the change came six years ago, when the National Vietnamese Circus came to Taiwan. Stopping at Taibao City (太保) in Chiayi County, the circus’ star and lead performer, nicknamed Annie, met the head of the Taiwanese troupe, Chang Chin-hu (張金湖).
Chang found that Annie was not only an effective administrator, organizing food and lodging for the circus, but was also fluent in English, as well as being a talented acrobat.
Thinking that she would be perfect for his son, Chang introduced them, and only two weeks later, Annie and his son, Chang Fang-yuan (張芳遠), decided to get married.
On joining the family, Annie quit her job with the Vietnamese circus and moved to Taiwan, and before long was helping out with the troupe.
In the beginning, Annie struggled because she was a complete beginner at Mandarin Chinese and Hoklo (commonly known as Taiwanese).
Afraid that she would make mistakes reciting her lines during shows, Annie made sure she committed the lines to memory.
Even so, she was still afraid of taking on the main roles and generally played only minor characters.
“My mother-in-law told me: ‘If you are afraid then you will never learn well,’” Annie said, adding that 76-year-old troupe director Yen Yueh-e (顏月娥) also spent extra time training her on playing the various roles.
“Taiwanese Opera is so interesting and contains so much knowledge,” Annie said, adding that although performing opera is much harder than being in the circus, she was already in love with it and would continue to perform.
Annie’s experience with the troupe also had other bonuses, as she is now fluent in Hoklo and is able to fit into the society around her.
Annie has also incorporated elements of her circus acrobatics into performances, injecting new vitality into the shows of the troupe, which has been performing for the past six decades.