Reading Time: 2 minutes

Chinese actors travel to U of O for Peking opera performance

Photos by: Dzimitry-Klachkou

A man with pink eye-shadow and a beard down to his belly delicately stepped across the stage. Students and professors from the University of Ottawa walked with him into a world over 200 years old.

At the Academic Hall, the U of O’s Department of Theatre presented an excerpt from the Peking opera Murder of a Concubine, starring William Lau and Jingze Wang with special lighting design by Jingwei Zhang. The production captivated the audience with stylized gestures, unique sounds, and elaborate costuming on December 1.

PekingIntext_Dzimitry KlachkouPeking opera, or Beijing opera, is a traditional Chinese theatre form that arose in the late 18th century. Combining music, vocals, mime, dance, and acrobatics, Peking opera features many types of performers.

Lau, trained in both Peking opera and traditional Chinese dance, played the concubine wife Yan, who blackmails her husband into signing divorce papers. Not only did his voice acting stun audience members, but his precise facial expressions created bouts of laughter by revealing the character’s hidden motives.

Wang, a professional Peking opera actor who travelled half way across the globe to Ottawa, played the husband Song, who becomes violent after Yan tricks him . Wang’s mimes and choreographed steps prompted the audience to imagine structures beyond the minimalist set of two chairs and a table.

“Peking opera is a very abstract art form,” Lau said.

According to Lau it takes a lot of experience to fully understand and appreciate Peking opera as there is meaning behind every gesture and sound. However, he said Zhang did an excellent job of bridging the gap between the audience and this unique ancient art form with the contemporary lighting components.

“I try to show the passage of time by projecting the moon at different stages of the night and a red-orange glow to mimic sunrise,” said Zhang. “As for different spaces around the house, the stairs, for example, were represented by a rectangular box (of projected light on the stage floor).”

The creative lighting design modernized this traditional performance, making it more accessible to audiences with little background in Peking opera.