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International Students Experience the Allure of Traditional Chinese Theatre

To encourage greater participation and awareness of cultural exchanges and traditions, the Office of International Affairs at National Taiwan Normal University invited performance troupe members Huang Ruo-Lin and Shi Hong-Jun of Contemporary Legend Theatre to demonstrate the forms and attitudes of classic roles in Beijing Opera, likening the opera’s numerous stylized gestures to present-day virtual reality simulations with a hundred years head start! Students from Hong Kong, Macau, Indonesia, Cambodia and other countries also enjoyed the charm of this traditional form of drama.

Huang and Shi are both graduates of the National Taiwan College of Performing Arts. Huang specializes in the dan role, which is that of a classic female character in Beijing Opera, while Shi specializes in the jing role, which is typically a more rugged male character. Their love for traditional Chinese theater led to their joining the Contemporary Legend Theatre, a performance troupe founded by playwright Wu Hsing-Kuo, following the company's efforts to incorporate Beijing Opera into Western classics such as “A Midsummer Night's Dream” and “Faust.” Contemporary Legend Theatre has received international acclaim for its performances abroad, having performed in 60 countries and 21 cities across the world, and is the only performance troupe in Taiwan to be invited to perform at three major international art festivals.

Huang Ruo-Lin explained that in Beijing Opera, characters of different genders, personalities, ages, and identities are divided into four major categories: sheng (male role), dan (female role), jing (painted face/rugged male), and chou (clown). For example, hua dan is mainly a young woman with a lively and playful or feisty personality. Shi detailed that although both jing and sheng are male characters, jing characters tend to be more rugged, with distinctively painted faces to represent the character's qualities. For example, a red face symbolizes loyalty and righteousness, while drooping eyebrows represent old age.

Besides introducing the classic roles of Beijing Opera, the two actors also demonstrated a few basic hand gestures in Beijing Opera performance, such as pointing at people and opening doors, inviting the students to practice the gestures themselves. Chen Mei-Feng, a student from Cambodia studying Chinese as a Second Language, said she attended the event out of an interest in the theatres; the gestures being demonstrated made her recall similar gestures in her hometown's traditional dramatic performances.

Shi Hong-Jun also mentioned that during April 22-24 of this year, Hsing Legend Theatre, formed by younger members of Contemporary Legend Theatre, will perform 'Legendary Elegance Part Six' in the Main Theatre of the Taiwan Traditional Theatre Center located in Shilin. This will be the first time that many of the younger actors will take on the challenge of performing traditional Chinese theatre by themselves. Also this year in June, Contemporary Legend Theatre will go on a performance tour of 'The Tempest” throughout the length of Taiwan, presenting this classic reproduction by Wu Hsing-Kuo and inviting NTNU faculty and students to see the show together.