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Monkey King Crowned a Success in US

Sellout American audiences are enjoying for the first time the sounds and spectacle of full-dress Peking Opera, thanks to the International Monkey King Troupe.

The Beijing-based theatrical company is appearing in 41 public performances and student workshops in 14 US cities during October and November.

The tour is an outreach project of the East Asia Program of Cornell University in Ithaca, New York, with partial funding from the Freeman Foundation of Stowe, Vermont.

The 17-member International Monkey King Troupe draws on the talents of students, graduates and senior masters of the Academy of Chinese Traditional Opera. It is led by the renowned master Zhang Shaohua and Ghaffar Pourazar, artistic director of Beijing's Zhengyici Opera House.

Pourazar, a British performer who was the first foreigner to complete the arduous training at the traditional opera academy, is conducting the company's student/teacher workshops in English.

The troupe's musicians and actors demonstrate basic moves, rhythms and acrobatics at pre-performance workshops. Performances of three legendary Monkey King stories derived from the 16th-century novel, Journey to the West, are preceded by commentary in English. The Dragon King's Palace, The Iron Fan Princess and Havoc in Heaven were chosen because of their excitement, action and easy-to-follow simplicity.

The performances include full traditional costumes and props, conventional painted faces, and the unique percussion instruments of Chinese Opera.

David Patt, director of Outreach for the Cornell East Asia Program and a Buddhist studies specialist, estimates that more than 10,000 people will experience China's unique theatrical art form during the tour.

He credits a conference a year ago at the University of Buffalo, New York, at which Pourazar appeared, plus Cornell-based dance professor Jumay Chu with providing inspiration for the project.

"Imagine a small army of performers somersaulting across the stage, twirling spears and tossing swords, executing superb martial arts moves all the while singing melodiously, costumed in magnificent silk brocades and multi-colored makeup," said Patt. "That is the wonder that audiences will find when they go to see The Adventures of the Monkey King."

Troupe co-director Zhang Shaohua is a Master Teacher at the International Center for Peking Opera. He is a retired member of the Beijing City Opera Troupe, where he gained fame as one of the most talented and respected performers of the wu chou, or martial clown character.

The International Monkey King American tour began October 1 and continues at 26 venues until November 18. Public performances, school performance and workshops are scheduled at arts centers, museums and universities throughout the northeastern US.

(China Daily October 18, 2004)

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