Monday, 22 May 2017

An Afternoon With The Chinese Opera | Fuji X-Pro 2

Laosheng (老生, old man)
As another string to my 'Chinoiserie' phase, I've been very attracted (visually and culturally) for quite some time to the art of what is generally known as Chinese Opera. I speak no Chinese, but it (in its many different ethnic varieties) being centuries old and performed in colorful costumes make for an visually appeal that's hard to resist capturing with my cameras.



Following my 5-6 hour photo shoot of performers at the Yuet Wan Cantonese Opera Association in Kuala Lumpur a few weeks ago, I resolved to continue on the path that I hope might lead me to another long term project similar to my two year long Hầu Đồng: The Spirit Mediums of Viet Nam, and discovered from an ad plastered all over NYC's Chinatown featuring a Chinese Opera to be held at the Chinese Consolidated Benevolent Association Auditorium on Mott Street.

I booked my seat for May 21 and with my Fuji X-Pro2 and a a panoply of lenses, was at the door half an hour before the opening time of 12:25 pm. I showed my credentials at the door, and asked for Gigi (who was in charge of the show) for her permission to photograph the performers in their full regalia at the end of the show.

Clearly not in the mood of being helpful of allowing anything of the sort, she swatted my credentials and request aside as a bothersome fly, and told me to return at 6:00 pm. Knowing a brush-off when I saw one, I sat in my assigned seat resolving to make the best of the situation, and eyed various other possibilities where i could stand unimpeded. I was the only non-Chinese to attend the show.


I also realized as the performance started that I had a rather good view of the stage and performers, especially as no one was seated in front of me. A stroke of luck to make up for Gigi's ill temper.

One of the first characters to appear on stage was the clown and the old man (the latter possibly the character in the top image). Clowns can be male or female and are sly or stupid, sometimes mean, but invariably ridiculous and laughter-provoking. This one had the audience cackling at some of his repartees.

At various stages of the skits, the Dan (female) performers appeared, and sang and acted quite well. The Dan mainly depict middle-aged or young female roles, who usually wear heavy makeup. Their cheeks are mostly painted red to set off the powdery white of the forehead, nose and jaw. Heavy black greasepaint is used to highlight the eyes and brows, and red color is applied to the lips to demonstrate the classical beauty of Chinese women.


I found that using the X-Pro2 fitted with the 18-135mm Fujinon lens was just perfect to capture the action from my seat, and I had no need to stand or move to another location within the room. Most of my images were shot at an ISO of 1000-1200, higher than what I am accustomed to, but the noise on the images is hardly noticeable.

The Beijing Opera of China is inscribed on UNESCO's World Intangible Cultural Heritages List in 2001 (as is Dao Mau, Vietnam's Mother Goddess religion), and is a national treasure with a history of more than 200 years. It is the most influential sort of traditional operas in China. The performers' make up takes hours to apply, using the color red, purple, black, white, blue, green, yellow, dark red, gray, golden and silver, with each color representing a unique stereotype character.

I intend to pursue this project as far as it will take me. It might come to an abrupt stop should I be unable to find a "connection" to it, but all signs so far are that it may work out.