May is the peak season for arts events in Beijing, and one of the city’s ongoing highlights, the “Meet in Beijing” gala is one of China’s major international arts festivals. The annual activity, the third of its kind this year, allows audiences from both Beijing and other parts of the country to see a combination of indoor and outdoor as well as professional and amateur performances, catering to both highbrow, and popular tastes. Based on the success of the previous two years, this year’s event is expected to draw bigger crowds and exert a bigger influence on the arts scene in China and the world.
An aria from Verdi’s La Traviata performed by Chinese tenors was among the highlights at the opening show of the third "Meet in Beijing" arts gala, which took place last Saturday night at the Great Hall of the People. Chinese Vice Premier Li Lanqing attended the ceremony and Minister of Culture Sun Jiazheng was also there to extend a warm welcome to artists from around the world. Musicians from the Central National Music Orchestra, China Central Opera House and China Peking Opera House gave shining performances at the start of a gala where arts and artists of the world came together in a cultural bonanza without national or ethnic boundaries.
"Meet in Beijing", one of the most influential international arts festivals in Asia, is jointly sponsored by the Ministry of Culture, Beijing municipal government and the State Administration of Radio, Film and Television. Over the past few years, it has evolved from various performing arts events, like the 1996 International Symphony Festival and the 1998 International Fine Arts Festival, into a comprehensive festival showcasing a variety of artistic forms.
Ding Wei, director of the Bureau for External Cultural Relations under the Ministry of Culture, explains why it was necessary to develop the event into a large-scale festival.
"’Meet in Beijing’, a national level large-scale comprehensive international arts festival, is aimed at promoting fine Chinese culture, introducing the essence of foreign arts, and enhancing cultural exchanges between China and the rest of the world. With our increased national strength, we hope to establish a few international art festivals that will become well known all over the world. We also hope that China can become one of the centers of international arts exchanges in Asia. ‘Meet in Beijing’ is part of the efforts to achieve this target."
The first two "Meet In Beijing" festivals drew over 40 groups each from Europe, America, Africa, Asia and Oceania. Each festival saw more than 100 performances being staged, attracting an audience of over 300,000, as well as countless more viewers from around the world who caught the event via satellite. This year has seen an upsurge in the number of participants, with over 60 arts troupes and 10 art exhibitions from more than 30 countries and regions around the world entertaining the crowds. For the next few weeks before the festival ends on May 31st, most of Beijing’s arts venues will be packed with people enjoying various art forms including opera, Peking Opera, orchestral music, modern dance, pop music and acrobatics.
Even within the same kind of art form, art lovers will still be spoilt for choice. Fans of ballet will be able to see "Don Quixote", performed by the renowned National Ballet of Cuba, as well as "Coppelia", presented by the Central Ballet of China, widely regarded as the best ballet troupe in the country. "The Merchant of Venice" presented by the Britain’s Royal Shakespeare Company will be certain to attract theatre aficionados, as will "The Dawn is Quiet" performed by the National Theatrical Company of China. The Spanish National Dance Theatre will share the boards with its counterpart from Austria, the Prantl Modern Dance Company, and Australian pop star Tina Arena’s large-scale concert has already aroused eager anticipation from many pop music fans.
Michael O’Sullivan, Cultural Counsellor with the British Embassy in China, says that the "Meet in Beijing" festival is drawing a lot of interest from his country.
"It’s the third year that we’ve had the ‘Meet in Beijing’ cultural festival. Also in the autumn, we have the Beijing International music festival. So two very big cultural festivals each year in Beijing now and I think they both develop very quickly into major festivals, and attract major artists both from within China and from foreign countries. I think Beijing needs large-scale festivals, and we’re delighted to be able to help provide one of the key ingredients for this year’s ‘Meet in Beijing’ Cultural Festival."
The China Performing Arts Agency, or CPAA, is the main organizer of the "Meet in Beijing" art festival. Its General Manager Zhang Yu says that in addition to having participants from around the world and a rich variety of art forms, this year’s "Meet in Beijing" will also be the venue where many shows will be staged for the first time.
"In addition to the ability to draw famous arts troupes from around the world, another major criteria to judge the level of an international arts festival is whether it can constantly present new performances and new artists. In this regard, the third "Meet in Beijing" will be making some notable headway."
Zhang Yu says that among the many programs making their debut at the festival will be a Chinese symphonic poem featuring one of the country’s literary classics ‘the Dream of the Red Mansion’, an orchestral work written as a eulogy to well-known traditional Chinese paintings, and new shows put on at the National Peking Opera House.
One of the most eagerly awaited premieres was that of the musical "Tristan and Yesult" produced by famous French fashion designer Pierre Cardin. It is based on a popular European tale which in turn originated from a 12th century poem. German composer Richard Wagner wrote a famous opera based on the legend that premiered in 1865. Pierre Cardin’s musical made its debut in Paris last year to immediate and widespread public acclaim. Its performance in Beijing was the first time the show was staged outside France and marks the first leg of its world tour. Pierre Cardin says that his musical is very different from that of Wagner’s.
"Wagner once made the music for ‘Tristan and Yesult’. But that’s a different point, and I don’t want to make the same music. It’s sentimental for young people and those not so young. You will feel well the music is very pleasant."
General Manager Zhang Yu says that in order to encourage greater artistic production in China, more emphasis has been put on local troupe performances. The festival will also feature the national arts of China, with a number of traditional as well as new artistic productions.
In addition to stage performances and art exhibitions, mass cultural activities will also get under way to attract larger audiences. Fifteen overseas art troupes from more than 10 countries and regions will stage performances in seven cultural parks and squares in Beijing. Feng Shouren, deputy director of the Beijing Cultural Bureau, says that get-togethers related to the "Meet in Beijing" festival have become a cultural symbol of the city.
"These mass cultural activities invite the participation of the public and allow ordinary Beijingers and visitors from across the country to view high-quality performances on streets and in parks. Such activities are very helpful in introducing a great variety of world arts, popularizing highbrow arts, raising Beijing’s cultural level and enriching people’s cultural lives."
Shi Yulan, a retired teacher, was excited about the various indoor and outdoor activities provided by the festival.
"I think the ‘Meet in Beijing’ art festival has largely enriched my life. It is not easy for a retired person like me to go to the theatre, which is usually quite expensive. And the large number of theatre and open-air shows at the festival has given me the opportunity to get closer to the arts. I hope more opportunities of this kind will be available."
CPAA General Manager Zhang Yue says that the third "Meet in Beijing" will continue to build on the festival’s image and enhance its position as an international cultural event.
"’Meet in Beijing’ has become the largest art festival in Asia, providing a huge stage for artists from around the world every year, and is winning the recognition of more and more international artists and arts groups. It is our wish to let East meet West, history meet the present, and classical meet popular in the annual festival in Beijing."
Organizers hope it will join the international mainstream and become one of the world’s most prestigious art festivals.
(CRI online April 27, 2002)