Changgeuk meets Peking opera in 'Farewell My Concubine'

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Changgeuk meets Peking opera in 'Farewell My Concubine'

Poster for the National Changgeuk Company of Korea's 'Farewell My Concubine' / Courtesy of National Theater of Korea

By Kwon Mee-yoo

Can "changgeuk," a type of theater style based on Korean narrative singing pansori, blend well with Peking opera, the iconic Chinese performance style combining music, mime, dance and acrobatics?

The National Changgeuk Company of Korea (NCCK), which has been pioneering modernization of the genre, joined hands with Taiwanese actor and director Wu Hsing-kuo to experiment with changgeuk and Peking opera in their new performance "Farewell My Concubine."

Though mostly well known as the 1993 film version starring Leslie Cheung, the NCCK's "Farewell My Concubine" is based on the original Peking opera also known as "The Hegemon-King Bids His Concubine Farewell." The Chinese epic tells the story of Xiang Yu during the Chu―Han Contention in ancient China.

Poster for the National Changgeuk Company of Korea's 'Farewell My Concubine' / Courtesy of National Theater of Korea

Wu, currently artistic director of the Contemporary Legend Theatre, said this collaboration has a great cultural and historical significance.

"Tradition and modernity meets in this changgeuk and it is important to have the concept that resonates with contemporary audiences," Wu said during a press conference, Tuesday. "Tradition has to become braver, modernized to encounter more audiences. It is a feeling of danger all kinds of traditions around the world face."

Wu's Contemporary Legend Theatre has been working on modernization of the Peking opera, embracing various genres such as Greek tragedy and Shakespeare and Kafka's writings, unlike Peking opera in mainland China centering on preserving the tradition.

"I have been rehearsing with the NCCK members for about a month now and realized that pansori is an amalgamative form of art that can absorb and embrace other genres. Pansori is established from sound, but Peking opera has strong visual elements such as gestures and movements. I believe that we can make pansori more exuberant by adding performative elements while maintaining its essence."

Lin Hsiu-wei, script writer and choreographer of "Farewell My Concubine," said she concentrated on bridging the heroes of some 2,000 years ago with contemporary audiences.

"The Chu―Han Contention spans seven years and we condensed the epic into two hours. It is impossible to tell every detail in a limited running time, but I tried to give a glimpse of general plot of the war in 'Farewell My Concubine,'" Lin said.

In terms of choreography, "We work based on pansori and Peking opera, but added Korean traditional dance and contemporary dance for diversity. I borrowed the iconic sword dance of Yu Miaoyi, or Consort Yu, from original Peking opera," she added.

Wu Hsing-kuo, left, director of changgeuk 'Farewell My Concubine' and Lee Ja-ram, pansori composer of 'Farewell My Concubine,' pose for a photo in Seoul, Tuesday. Courtesy of National Theater of Korea

Pansori perfomer, composer and musician Lee Ja-ram is composed pansori for the new changgeuk.

"'Farewell' is a well-known Chinese classic and I thought hard over the role of music in the collaboration between changgeuk and Peking opera. Some music is inspired by the Chinese text, but my sound is basically rooted in the five remaining Korean pansori repertoire. I had to balance those," Lee said. "This project is a novelty and when the Peking opera creators met with changgeuk performers, something happened, though we don't know what it exactly is yet. We all do our our given task and something new is born though it."

Guest pansori performer Jung Bo-gwon, who plays Chu emperor Xiang Yu, demonstrated a part, singing pansori while using symbolic Peking opera movements.

"At first, I felt awkward performing unfamiliar movements while singing pansori, but after rehearsals, I became used to it," Jung said.

Heo Jong-youl, who plays Xiang Yu's adviser Fan Zeng, compared the Peking opera movements to "ballim," dramatic gestures accompanying pansori.

"Peking opera established these symbolic and suggestive movements matched with particular meanings. It is similar to ballim, an element of pansori, but more formulated. It was interesting to see the synergy of the Peking opera movements and pansori sound and I thought we might develop certain ballim for the five remaining traditional pansori repertoire," Heo said.

Changgeuk "Farewell My Concubine" is staged at Daloreum Theater of the National Theater of Korea from April 5-14. For more information, visit www.ntok.go.kr


Poster for the National Changgeuk Company of Korea's 'Farewell My Concubine' / Courtesy of National Theater of Korea

By Kwon Mee-yoo

Can "changgeuk," a type of theater style based on Korean narrative singing pansori, blend well with Peking opera, the iconic Chinese performance style combining music, mime, dance and acrobatics?

The National Changgeuk Company of Korea (NCCK), which has been pioneering modernization of the genre, joined hands with Taiwanese actor and director Wu Hsing-kuo to experiment with changgeuk and Peking opera in their new performance "Farewell My Concubine."

Though mostly well known as the 1993 film version starring Leslie Cheung, the NCCK's "Farewell My Concubine" is based on the original Peking opera also known as "The Hegemon-King Bids His Concubine Farewell." The Chinese epic tells the story of Xiang Yu during the Chu―Han Contention in ancient China.

Poster for the National Changgeuk Company of Korea's 'Farewell My Concubine' / Courtesy of National Theater of Korea

Wu, currently artistic director of the Contemporary Legend Theatre, said this collaboration has a great cultural and historical significance.

"Tradition and modernity meets in this changgeuk and it is important to have the concept that resonates with contemporary audiences," Wu said during a press conference, Tuesday. "Tradition has to become braver, modernized to encounter more audiences. It is a feeling of danger all kinds of traditions around the world face."

Wu's Contemporary Legend Theatre has been working on modernization of the Peking opera, embracing various genres such as Greek tragedy and Shakespeare and Kafka's writings, unlike Peking opera in mainland China centering on preserving the tradition.

"I have been rehearsing with the NCCK members for about a month now and realized that pansori is an amalgamative form of art that can absorb and embrace other genres. Pansori is established from sound, but Peking opera has strong visual elements such as gestures and movements. I believe that we can make pansori more exuberant by adding performative elements while maintaining its essence."

Lin Hsiu-wei, script writer and choreographer of "Farewell My Concubine," said she concentrated on bridging the heroes of some 2,000 years ago with contemporary audiences.

"The Chu―Han Contention spans seven years and we condensed the epic into two hours. It is impossible to tell every detail in a limited running time, but I tried to give a glimpse of general plot of the war in 'Farewell My Concubine,'" Lin said.

In terms of choreography, "We work based on pansori and Peking opera, but added Korean traditional dance and contemporary dance for diversity. I borrowed the iconic sword dance of Yu Miaoyi, or Consort Yu, from original Peking opera," she added.

Wu Hsing-kuo, left, director of changgeuk 'Farewell My Concubine' and Lee Ja-ram, pansori composer of 'Farewell My Concubine,' pose for a photo in Seoul, Tuesday. Courtesy of National Theater of Korea

Pansori perfomer, composer and musician Lee Ja-ram is composed pansori for the new changgeuk.

"'Farewell' is a well-known Chinese classic and I thought hard over the role of music in the collaboration between changgeuk and Peking opera. Some music is inspired by the Chinese text, but my sound is basically rooted in the five remaining Korean pansori repertoire. I had to balance those," Lee said. "This project is a novelty and when the Peking opera creators met with changgeuk performers, something happened, though we don't know what it exactly is yet. We all do our our given task and something new is born though it."

Guest pansori performer Jung Bo-gwon, who plays Chu emperor Xiang Yu, demonstrated a part, singing pansori while using symbolic Peking opera movements.

"At first, I felt awkward performing unfamiliar movements while singing pansori, but after rehearsals, I became used to it," Jung said.

Heo Jong-youl, who plays Xiang Yu's adviser Fan Zeng, compared the Peking opera movements to "ballim," dramatic gestures accompanying pansori.

"Peking opera established these symbolic and suggestive movements matched with particular meanings. It is similar to ballim, an element of pansori, but more formulated. It was interesting to see the synergy of the Peking opera movements and pansori sound and I thought we might develop certain ballim for the five remaining traditional pansori repertoire," Heo said.

Changgeuk "Farewell My Concubine" is staged at Daloreum Theater of the National Theater of Korea from April 5-14. For more information, visit www.ntok.go.kr


Kwon Mee-yoo meeyoo@koreatimes.co.kr


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