Yuju Opera production set for Avignon Festival stage

Updated: Jun 18, 2024 By Cheng Yuezhu China Daily Print
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Wu Suzhen plays the role of a young woman in love in the Yuju Opera production Shi Yuzhuo (Picking up the Jade Bracelet). [Photo provided to China Daily]

Three works to be presented at event will highlight discipline and grace of format to international audiences, Cheng Yuezhu reports.

As an award-winning performer of Yuju Opera, a style of traditional Chinese opera prevalent in Henan province, Wu Suzhen specializes in the role of qingyi — dignified female characters who often exude elegance and maturity.

In the classic production Yuzhou Feng (The Cosmic Sword), however, she departs from her usual graceful demeanor, as the story depicts a woman in ancient times who feigns madness to avoid being taken as a concubine by the emperor.

It takes a great deal of nuance to portray this character, apart from exaggerated gestures and farcical lines, according to Wu. In one scene where the protagonist turns her head three times, she needs to convey different expressions and emotions with each turn — from signs of derangement, to genuine grief and indignation.

This is among the creative designs of Yuju Opera master Chen Suzhen (1918-1994), who made innovations and developed an artistic style known for its elegance, authenticity and subtlety, named as the Chen School of Yuju Opera.

Now an inheritor of the Chen School, Wu Suzhen, who in 2019 won the Plum Performance Award, China's top honor for traditional Chinese theatrical art, is soon to bring her Suzhen Theater, based in Kaifeng, Henan province, to this year's Avignon Festival in France.

Yuzhou Feng is one of three Yuju Opera productions to be staged at the festival, along with Shi Yuzhuo (Picking up the Jade Bracelet), and Fanwang Gong (Palace of Brahma).

"These are all classic Chen School productions. Yuzhou Feng was the first piece I learned after joining the Chen School, and until this day, I still feel that it is so difficult to perform," she says.

"I prefer characters with distinctive personalities. The characters in these three plays are very different from each other, yet all three productions highlight expressive movements, which make them fitting choices to present to international audiences."

This year, the festival runs from June 29 to July 21. Suzhen Theater will perform from July 3 until the end of the festival, presenting 38 stage and outdoor performances.

As 2024 marks the 60th anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic ties between China and France, as well as the China-France Year of Culture and Tourism, Suzhen Theater's performance series has been included in the cultural exchange events taking place throughout the year in the two countries.

"These performances are very meaningful in that they center on Yuju Opera, a specific style of traditional Chinese opera, and almost span the entirety of the Avignon Festival," says Wang Lu, general manager of the China Performing Arts Agency, a co-organizer of the performances.

"Every July, theater lovers from around the world gather at the festival, which means that these Yuju productions will face international audiences daily, enhancing their influence and reach."

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