Opera Warriors explores traditional Chinese theatre

Chinese dance and culture shines in Opera Warriors

Opera Warriors, performed on January 5th and 6th at the Queen Elizabeth Theatre, was a well-executed production. It featured the athletic abilities of the performers, elaborate set design, detailed costuming, and beautiful lighting.

Set in China during the early 20th century, the story follows three brothers as they learn the art of classical Chinese dance. The plot focuses on the love between the youngest brother, Heidou, and the master’s daughter, and the reunion of the elder brother with a concubine. Ultimately, though, it tells of the glory of the youngest brother who reshaped Chinese theatrical performance.

Opera Warriors was presented as a “drama dance” and contained elements from the different styles of classical Chinese dance and theatre. It was largely accompanied by orchestral music and centred around the theatrical and athletic abilities of the performers, similar to ballet. The performance also utilized the structure of a “play within a play,” where the characters would perform “on stage” within the performance itself.

In one scene, the eldest brother is performing “on stage,” while his childhood lover, the concubine, is watching from afar. As the scene progresses, the platform of the concubine moves closer to the “stage” of the eldest brother, and she enters “onstage” to dance with the elder brother. This moment merges the two characters and their different states of being, where one is living in reality while the other is living in a dream.

Despite the term ‘opera,’ the performance did not include the sort of “opera singing.” This is not surprising, as it is likely more difficult to comprehend without a fuller understanding of the Chinese operatic style. However, to aid in the understanding of what was occurring on stage, screens were set up at both ends of the stage and, prior to each act, displayed a summary of the act in English.

If there was one thing that may have detracted from the overall experience, it would have been the amount of history and symbolism integrated within the performance. As such certain aspects of Chinese theatre and dance were not fully explained. Yet, the performance provided enough information to create interest for the story, while withholding enough information that the audience, if interested, could easily conduct research into the subject of traditional Chinese Opera.

Lastly, the overemphasized emotions although excellent at certain moments in the performance, their continued use throughout may have been slightly over-dramatic in others. This coupled with the lack of subplot development gave the performance more of an action movie feeling than a theatrical one.

Despite these shortcomings, Opera Warriors showed a glimpse into the culture and wonder of Chinese theatre. The story was easy to latch onto, and the viewer was able to follow the splendid dancing, that moved with the ebb and flow of the orchestral music. Overall, it was an excellent performance to have witnessed.