Thursday, 21 February 2019

Kevin Frayer | Sichuan Opera

Photo © Kevin Frayer | All Rights Reserved
I have long followed the work of Getty's Kevin Frayer; an award -winning photojournalist based in Asia, who was a photographer at the Canadian Press and a Chief Photographer for the Associated Press based in the Gaza Strip, Jerusalem, and New Delhi. He is currently working with Getty Images.

However I didn't realize that he had done lovely work documenting a rural Chinese opera troupe in Sichuan featured on the International Business Times..thus providing me with valuable inspiration for my own long term book project involving Chinese opera of the Diaspora. My primary focus in this project is on the "rural" or provincial troupes who perform their art during Chinese celebrations and religious observances.

The troupe photographed is the Jinyuan Opera Company in Cangshan (Sichuan province), which was founded in 1984 and in the absence of government asistance and subsidies, currently operates on a shoestring with poorly paid enthusiasts as performers.

Chinese opera has a long, rich history that dates back to 200 A.D. Over the centuries, a handful of styles of opera emerged — each with its own distinct makeup, music, and acting traditions — reflecting the eras and tastes of the changing dynasties. Sichuan opera is the youngest style, emerging around 1700 in Chengdu, Sichuan province, where it is still performed today by a dwindling roster of troupes.

I am more interested (visually-speaking) in the elderly performers, whose features show the tribulations of their hard lives still visible despite the heavy make up. This image by Mr. Frayer is an exemplar of what I mean:

Photo © Kevin Frayer | All Rights Reserved

And of my own while, not as colorful, is of an elderly performer awaiting his turn during an opera performance in Kuala Lumpur.

Photo © Tewfic El-Sawy | All Rights Reserved
The Beijing style of opera, widely known as Peking Opera, was popularized under the Qing Dynasty, which was brought down by the Chinese Revolution of 1911. It had ample support from the court and spread because it was sung in a language widely understood across China, while regional varieties such as Cantonese, Shanghainese and Sichuanese opera stuck to their own dialects and songs.

Although the Communist leadership remained keen on Peking Opera after it took power in 1949, it was later during the Cultural Revolution that it was banned. It not until the 1980s that private theatre companies began to form again in China.
However all forms of Chinese opera have had to compete with new forms of entertainment that came with China’s economic boom. In the 1960s there were more than 300 varieties of Chinese opera, dwindling to about 200 at this present time.