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Peking Opera and Noh Shine on Stage
Two very different Yang Guifeis will shine on the same stage as renowned Chinese Peking Opera actor Mei Baojiu and Japanese Noh artist Sakurama Makoto perform the Legend of Yang Yuhuan at the Chang'an Grand Theatre on October 11 and 12.

The show will feature both Peking Opera and Noh, the highest levels of Chinese and Japanese traditional opera. The event is part of a series of cultural exchange activities to commemorate the 30th anniversary of the normalization of relations between China and Japan.

Noh, along with Bugaku, Gagaku and Kyogen, are Japan's best known traditional performing arts.

The history of Noh dates back to the 14th century, developing in the Muromachi period (15th-16th century) and flourishing in the Shoguns of the Edo Period (1603-1868).

There are five categories of Noh plays featuring gods, warriors, women, miscellaneous figures (notably mad-women or current personalities).

Of the five categories, the plays about women are the slowest in tempo but the most poetic.

The Legend of Yang Yuhuan belongs to this category.

Yang Yuhuan, better known as Guifei (the Imperial Concubine of the First Order), was the most-favored consort of Tang Dynasty (AD 618-907) Emperor Xuanzong (AD 685-762).

Yang and the emperor loved each other deeply, but when the empire faced rebellion and turmoil, the emperor was forced to order her to commit suicide.

After her death, the emperor still loved Yang and missed her day and night and sent people to find her spirit. The lovers finally met in a dream.

Mei Baojiu performs Yang in the first half, before Yang's death, while Sakurama performs the spirit of Yang in the dream.

In February, Mei and the Mei Lanfang Peking Opera Troupe cooperated with Sakurama on this show in Tokyo, which won an unexpected hearty response from local audiences and acclaim from Japanese critics.

"We hope the special theatrical work will also fascinate Chinese audiences just as it has in Japan to promote arts communication between the two neighboring countries," said Wang Lianzeng, manager of the theatre.

Sakurama said the performance highlights Chinese and Japanese culture.

"The tragic story of Yang Guifei spread to Japan about 1,200 years ago and it has influenced many Japanese theatrical and literature works," said Sakurama. "It is a good experience for me to work with Mei Baojiu on such a show which is popular in the two countries."

The first half of the performance will display Peking Opera's arias and acting, while the second half fits in with Noh, which usually portrays the spirits and supernatural world, Sakurama said.

Noh is popular today among educated and wealthier audiences which support professional Noh theatres in Tokyo, Kyoto and Osaka.

Classified as theatre, Noh combines many musical, dance, poetic and visual elements while employing masks and symbolic stage props to express a world of simplicity and elegant subtlety.

The mask worn by the main actor is extremely eye-catching. With little or no expression, the mask is seen as the symbol of the Noh performance, which typically deals with issues in daily life.

A Noh actor needs years of rigorous training to learn its very formalized and dignified aspects. Movement is economized and expression is indirect.

"A mere suggestion of action carries a full and weighty substance, and the viewer must bring his or her own imagination into full play to fill in the long blocks of silence and inaction," said Sakurama.

Professional Noh artists, mainly men, have passed down the art among family members for many generations. For instance, Sakurama Makoto is the 21st generation of the Sakurama family, one of several very renowned schools in Japan.

In the beginning of both Noh and Peking Opera, it was the men that played all the roles, including female ones.

(China Daily October 10, 2002)

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