Known as the mother of Chinese traditional theatre, Kunqu has a history of over 600 years and is the oldest form of xiqu still performed today. This selection of excerpts showcases both regional characteristics and the talents of the troupe’s specialist performers, with wusheng (martial arts) artists Lin Weilin, Gu Haohao and Yang Fengyi presenting a series of action-packed combat scenes, and huadan (young female) specialist Wang Fang and xiaosheng (young male) specialist Wang Zhenyi demonstrating the nuance and grace of Kunqu acting and singing.
“The Birth of a Son” from Reunited by a White Hare
Set in the Five Dynasties period, this play is based on the early life of Liu Zhiyuan, emperor of the Later Han. As a child, Liu is sent by his impoverished parents to work in the house of the nobleman Li Wenkui. Recognising that the boy is destined to become a great leader, Li ignores the objections of his son and daughter-in-law and marries Liu to his daughter San Niang. However, when Li passes away, the sister-in-law makes the young couple’s life so unbearable that Liu leaves San Niang with her family and heads off to join the army.
After finding work as a night watchman, Lui is taken under the wing of district governor Yue, who trains him to become a military leader. Back at home, San Niang, pregnant with Lui’s child and bullied by her sister-in-law, gives birth alone in a desolate mill. With no knife to cut the umbilical cord, she severs it with her teeth and names the child Yau Qilang, “the boy with the bitten navel”. Afraid that her sister-in-law will endanger her son’s life, San Niang begs a servant to take the child to Liu at the army camp.
Years later, while Yau Qilang is hunting a white hare, he comes across San Niang at a well. Not recognising the poor woman as his mother, he listens as she tells him about her life. As it dawns on him that her story resembles his own, he returns to tell his father. But will the truth lead to a happy reunion?
Cast: Wang Fang (Two-time winner of the Plum Blossom Award for Chinese Theatre)
“The Gift of a Sword” from Princess Baihua
Hearing that Prince Anxi is planning a revolt, the Yuen dynasty court sends Imperial Commissioner Jiang Luyun to investigate. Arriving at Anxi’s residence incognito and calling himself Haijun, Jiang is taken in and given an important post. Suspicious of the new arrival, Anxi’s chief attendant Bala makes Haijun drunk and leads him to the forbidden grounds of Princess Baihua’s chamber, hoping that the princess, Anxi’s daughter, will kill the intruder. As luck would have it, Baihua’s lady-in-waiting is none other than Haijun’s long-lost sister, Jiang Huayou, who quickly covers up for him. When Princess Baihua sees the young man, she is taken by his good looks. Instead of having him killed, she gives him her sword as a token of love, unaware that her affection may have dire consequences.
Lü Bu Breaking in the Horse
During the Three Kingdoms period, Lü Bu, a young general famous for his military skills, is given a fine steed said to be able to run a thousand miles a day. When he takes it to the open fields with his entourage he finds the animal headstrong and unbroken. Rising to the challenge, Lü demonstrates his masterful horsemanship skills, bringing the horse under his control and returning to the camp in triumph.
Cast: Lin Weilin (Two-time winner of the Plum Blossom Award for Chinese Theatre)
“Calling Upon the Picture” from The Peony Pavilion
Set during the time of the Southern Song period, this tale from the famous novel The Peony Pavilion recounts the story of Du Liniang, the daughter of the governor of Nan An. One night, Du Liniang dreams that she falls in love with a young scholar. Unable to recall the details of the dream after she wakes, she is consumed with lovesickness and soon succumbs to a broken heart. Her final wish is for her relatives to bury her beneath a plum tree in their garden and place her portrait beneath a rock by the lake. After her death, having done as she bid them, her relatives rename the garden Meihuaguan, Plum Blossom View. Three years later, Liu Mengmei, a scholar from Lingnan, stops at Meihuaguan on his way to the capital to take the civil service exams. By chance he finds the portrait of Du Liniang. Picking it up, Liu is entranced by the beauty of the woman in the portrait. Realising she is neither Guan Yin the goddess of mercy nor one of the eight immortals, he begins to whisper words of love…
Cast :Cai Zhengren (Winner of the Plum Blossom Award for Chinese Theatre)
“The Battle on the Water” from The Legend of the White Snake
Learning of the marriage between scholar Xu Xian and the beautiful and wealthy young woman Bai Suzhen (Lady White Snake), the powerful Buddhist monk Fa Hai becomes concerned. Holding Xu Xian at Jinshan Temple, Fa Hai informs the young man that his wife and her friend Xiao Qing are both magical snakes in human form and convinces him that his life is in danger. Soon Bai Suzhen and Xiao Qing arrive at the temple and plead with Fa Hai to release Xu Xian and let him return home. Dismissing their pleas, Fa Hai replies that love between humans and supernatural creatures is impossible. Pregnant with Xu’s child, and desperate to free her husband, Bai uses her powers to flood the temple, calling upon aquatic creatures to help her. As Fa Hai, himself a supernatural turtle in human form, counters with his own powers, a battle ensues. Will Bai and Xiao Qing prevail in their efforts to reclaim Xu?
15 March 2019 (Friday)
Grand Theatre, Xiqu Centre
Regional languages with Chinese and English surtitles
(852) 2200 0022, email@example.com
Tickets now on sale