戏曲武生 Workshop Musings

郑龙 (translation by Elizabeth):

戏曲与中国古典舞(近代)的关联  The relationship between Chinese xiqu and Chinese Classical dance

我觉得两者的关联在于“像与不像”  后者因一定的外在因素(政治、民族需求)改变  创新而成  起步突兀  时间较短和缺少大量的民间基础(相对比民族民间舞的基础就非常扎实)  还有就是整体的系统一直处于成长状态  它需要借鉴相对成熟的体系去学习成长  戏曲作为历史悠久群众基础庞大并且拥有浓郁民族文化性的一门艺术  不可避免的就成为了主要学习对象之一

My thoughts regarding the relationship between these two performance forms:

  • Chinese classical dance
    • the changes in Chinese classical dance often happen due to external (political and cultural) elements
    • it came about due to innovation
    • it was institutionalised quite suddenly
    • it is a rather new performance genre and lacks a firm minjian base (as compared to Chinese ethnic folk dance)
    • the system that is currently in place is constantly being developed and growing
    • thus, there is possibly a need to borrow more mature systems from other forms
  • Chinese xiqu
    • has a longer history
    • has a well-exposed and educated audience
    • is rooted in a strong minzu culture
    • naturally became one of the ideal forms to learn from for Chinese classical dance

 

在动作上中国古典舞(近代)模仿戏曲动作并加以提炼是其通常做法  比如 手型 脚位 技术 身法这些都十分相像却在细微之处加以改动  以不同的审美方式(受西方芭蕾及传统武术影响)在不失去独特韵味的同时去改变限制并规范它  那为什么要“限制规范”呢  我个人猜测是受西方芭蕾舞剧和芭蕾基础训练里“规范性”的思想所导致的当然还带点政治因素

In terms of movement vocabulary, taking movements from xiqu and then refining them into dance movements, has been the norm. For example, hand shapes, the positions of the feet and shenfa evident in Chinese classical dance are extremely similar to those used in xiqu, with only subtle changes made. Using different aesthetics (due to Western ballet and Chinese martial arts influences), they changed these movements, while retaining their unique yunwei, and then fixed specific requirements for these altered movements. Why is there a need to make absolute requirements for the dance vocabulary? I feel that this is due to the influence of the ballet training and performance system. The notion of codifying steps with specific instructions and requirements is also a politically influenced decision.

 

戏曲的动作大多数以人物剧情生活状态为基础加以夸张的表现手法呈现出丰富的情感去感染观众  这点在中国古典舞(近代)的剧目表演编创上也起着巨大的影响  它一定程度上也借鉴了戏曲的表演编创方式  当然舞蹈在剔除了唱和念之后以纯身体的方式来表现出情感与塑造角色可谓说是非常非常困难的  在这种困难的刺激下中国古典舞(近代)才逐渐的形成了自己的编创表演风格

The movements in xiqu are mostly centred around a character and his/her setting and events experienced within the story. One of the strategies used in xiqu is to exaggerate the emotional performance so as to touch the audience on an emotional level as well. This in turn, made a huge impact on Chinese classical dance choreography. Chinese classical dance choreography borrows many of the same techniques used by xiqu. Of course, dance faces much more difficulty in portraying a character without singing and speech, and by only using the body. However, it is also this difficulty that allowed Chinese classical dance choreography to find its own style.

 

还有就是除了出发点及民众基础上的有所不同外  在中国古典舞(近代)本身的艺术系统发展上也和戏曲艺术系统的发展非常相似  四大徽班进京之前可以说都属于是地方艺术  它在进化之前本身就已经五花八门了还吸收了当地的各种唱腔身段技术技巧  我觉得这点算是中国古典舞(近代)缺失的部分  在徽班进京之后在政府支持下开始了融合与进化  这个过程就非常像中国古典舞(近代)的形成方式(可能中国比较喜欢这样的方式)  只不过舞蹈吸收的内容跨度及借鉴的各类艺术复杂程度上更加明显  时间上来说戏曲艺术在进化的道路上已经走了很久已经非常成熟了而中国古典舞(近代)的进化或许才开始不久吧

The development of Chinese classical dance as a practice is also similar to the development of xiqu as an artistic system. Before the sidahuiban brought xiqu to Beijing, it was considered an indigenous performance form. Before its evolution into jingju (京剧), it was already a combined performance form that involved different performance methods, but each with its own unique way of singing, performance technique and shenduan (specific to the place it originated from). I feel that this is something that Chinese classical dance lacks. After the sidahuiban came to Beijing, they were able to develop a system with the help of the government. This process was very similar to the one Chinese classical dance went through (perhaps China likes to use this method), however it is clear that dance absorbed the different influences and borrowed from different forms in a much more complicated way. In terms of time, xiqu has already existed much longer and thus has a much more mature system, whereas Chinese classical dance is much younger and therefore much less mature.

 

审美 借鉴 模仿 提炼 升华 突破这些或许就是戏曲与中国古典舞(近代)互相关联却又因这些最终各自产生了不同的表演艺术

Aesthetics, borrowing from other forms, mimicry, refinement, innovation: these elements exist and closely relate to each other in both xiqu and Chinese classical dance, however certain differences in the way these elements are applied, ultimately paved the way for two very different performance forms.

 

Ps:近代特指建国之后发展的中国古典舞

P.S. Chinese classical dance refers to the official dance genre that was institutionalized in the People’s Republic of China post-1949


 

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戏曲武生课-小郭老师

 

小郭老师’s comments from discussions/lectures on 6/2/17 and 13/2/17:

  • 戏曲的专业性很强,入门的训练很枯燥,所以现在越来越少人会对学戏曲感兴趣。
  • 北方的剧比较多武戏。
  • 京剧有大概200年的历史(明末,清朝)
  • 京剧的前生是“四大徽班”
  • From the ritualistic songs and shamanistic dances in the 元朝, there began to have combination of 戏 and 曲。
  • Zheng Long asked about the rise and fall of Chinese opera as a performing art from the past to the present, and if the 专业性会变?
    • Answer:外来的因素能让戏曲更进步,更往前发展。京剧算是一个挺完整的系统。Change has always been a part of 京剧, even during 清朝 (e.g. 梅兰芳used innovative performing methods)。 The changes in the past were made due to 专业性, nowadays the changes are to allow contemporary audiences to understand 戏曲 and be attracted to it. One example of a big change in the current 戏曲 scene is the 舞美 (stage design).
  • In the past, parents sent their children to the opera troupes to train because they were too poor to bring them up. The opera troupe trained them harshly for 3 years, fed them and gave them shelter, then they had to work for the troupe for another 2 years after that and all the profits went to the 师傅。
  • Nowadays if an opera performer wins awards in a competition, they are set for life, so they only know one or two 戏s well. Thus comparing to the practitioners in the past, they are not as skilled.
  • “Need to keep the tradition before innovating”
  • 以前的京剧没有‘导演’这个位置的:有师兄,老师,师傅。
  • 梅兰芳met up with Charlie Chaplin, who asked who is the director?
  • Usually those performing the main roles are the most clear of the stage structure, because they have the most skill and experience. Now they invite famous directors in order to use their 名气。
  • Ruimin asked how did Chinese opera come to be Chinese dance? (i.e. the reasons behind opera 舞姿 and the reasoning behind the change to Chinese dance)
    • Answer: 戏曲是综合的艺术,其实是先有舞蹈再有曲和戏,然后再有戏曲。
    • N.B. this question was not really suitable for 小郭老师 because he doesn’t have much understanding of what Chinese classical dance is.
  • What is 民族性/民族特点?
    • 传统中国审美
    • 国家的历史与现状
  • 戏曲的根本: 唱念做打
    • 打:杂技,武术,体操
    • 变脸
    • 程式动作
    • Singing in Chinese languages
    • 唱戏,不是唱歌!
  • 戏曲从生活吸取题材,但必须要高于生活,必须要美!
  • 艺术性:美(不是普通人轻易能做到的动作/表演)
  • There is a universal 美,but an individual 审美。我们追求the universal 美。
  • 编创:要合理
    • 要能解释为什么合理
    • 有些人不觉得合理,但他们也有自己的原因
      • 不是‘错’,但不合理
      • 有时候也会发生这种情况:老师不觉得合理,但确实有人在用这种方法唱戏。
    • 有不同派别/风格
    • 但戏曲的基本功是保持的
  • 高靴的原因
    • 装饰,配合服装
    • 能改变演员的高度
  • 吊眉:隐藏年纪
  • 为什么戏曲要唱高音?
    • 当你情绪激动的时候,讲话/喊都会偏高音
    • 但高低音无所谓,重点是要唱得有‘味道’。
  • 生旦净末丑
  • 勾脸武生:
    • 高登
  • 长靠武生/大靠(靠旗)
    • 分量大,地位重
    • 厚底鞋
  • 软靠/改良靠
    • 没有靠旗但有厚底鞋
    • second-in-command
  • 短打武生
    • e.g. 三岔口
    • 薄底鞋
  • 娃娃生
    • e.g. 哪吒,沉香
  • 文老生/武老生
    • e.g. 黄忠
  • 武小生
    • e.g. 周瑜,杨宗保(穆桂英的老公)
  • 大武生/小武生
    • 技巧很好
    • 没有规定的定义
  • 刀马旦/武旦
  • “丑武生,俊花脸”
    • 武生将就感觉,不需太细
  • 武生
    • 脆,帅,美
    • 脆:不拖泥带水,干净
    • 帅:扮相
    • 美:身段美
    • 一定要化得干干净净,especially because so detailed
  • At the beginning have to learn everything: 基本功 and most 唱腔
    • Start at around 7, 8 years old
    • Don’t really have pre-requisites
    • 三年后,开始排戏的时候,老师决定学生唱什么位置
  • 戏曲服装是以明清服装为主
  • 民族文化决定服装的颜色
  • 武生用所有的道具
  • One of the common problems with Chinese opera nowadays is the use of literal, large-scale and elaborate sets. Xiqu is about the performance of daily-life movement. If the props provide the literal performance of the action then it takes away the subtleties of xiqu performance.

 

Choreographic Exploration with Zu You

 

Zu You picked Amos Yee as his contemporary Chinese character. He used a Chinese folded fan as both pen and paper/book, and had the progression of: being determined -> facing rejection -> picking himself up again -> being determined again.

His phrase was mostly front-oriented, and he created it with the use of the mirror as well, adding that he included certain 技巧 because he felt that Chinese dance required the incorporation of technique skills.

The music he used was a randomly chosen instrumental, but he felt that this piece of music suited the emotional development of the solo as well, so it was not completely random.

 

Rehearsal notes with Zu You

We began with learning an excerpt from a Chinese classical dance solo: 逼上梁山 performed by 孙科.

This was for the purpose of experiencing the method of male character portrayal within the canon of Chinese classical dance, to become more familiar with the performance quality of, in this case, 林冲 (a wronged general-turned-rebel), through Chinese classical dance ways of performing.

Then we got a bit stuck deciding whom to portray. I wanted the participants to feel a need to portray the person they chose. That is, the chosen person performs their Chineseness in ways that are representative of a certain group of contemporary Chinese people.

Some very raw ideas I had for my chosen person is a Taiwanese singer, because Chinese pop ballads often wax lyrical about the broken heart, and this tendency to melancholy (evident not only in their music, but also in their music videos) is something that is reflected in the day-to-day practices. It is difficult to prove without extensive data collection, but taking karaoke singing as an example, many sing Chinese ballads as a way to express or release certain emotions or memories of the sadder moments in their lives. Thus by performing a Chinese ballad singer, I seek to perform a kind of enjoyment in submerging oneself in and re-experiencing sad emotions, which I see as a significant part of contemporary Chinese culture.

However, how am I to dance this out?

I tried to improvise some movement according to that sense of vulnerability and sadness, but the sequence of movements soon began to feel quite mechanical and meaningless, especially since I was trying to use Chinese classical dance movement vocabulary.

There was no narrative, just a guiding feeling, which did not develop into something more or something different, so the improvisation began to feel quite pointless and boring.

I began to think if I had made the wrong decision by keeping the element of Chinese classical dance movement vocabulary in this experiment.

If Chinese classical dance was representative of traditional Chinese aesthetic values, and if the contemporary Chinese don’t necessarily subscribe to that set of values, then by attempting to create a Chinese classical dance based on a contemporary person would already contain a fundamental contradiction!

Are traditional Chinese aesthetic properties a static, fixed set of ideals?

Of course, individuals have subjective aesthetic beliefs. Some subscribe to the traditional Chinese aesthetic values more readily than others, and this is even before personal identity issues come into play.

The insistence of Chinese classical dance vocabulary might be something to reconsider in future rehearsals though.

Another issue that came up during the process was the use of the mirror during the choreographic process.

This was only brought to my attention when another participant asked me why I was ‘not allowing’ Zu You to look at the mirror while thinking of his choreography.

My initial intention was for him to pay more attention to the embodied experience of performing Chinese ‘body language’ or Chinese dance, but he felt more comfortable using the mirror (and I will assume the same for the participant who questioned my removal of the mirror).

My questions regarding the use of the mirror were then:
(1) What is the process that happens between looking into the mirror while creating and then not looking into the mirror when performing?
(2) Why is there a need to self-check while moving and creating?

Zu You’s answers were that he:
– can check the positioning and the dynamics of his dancing (whether or not they are ‘ideal’),
– can ensure that he is projecting further out (linked to above point)
– can ensure accuracy when performing traditional dance forms

At the end of the week, after quite a disorganised and confusing process, Zu You created a short dance sequence based on Amos Yee.

His main intention was to perform the experience of facing public persecution and rejection. This experience resulted in a specific and strong emotion, which created the need to create/express, and thus provided him with an impetus to create movement.

In the short solo + improvisation sequence, he made use of a Chinese folding fan as both pen and paper, ‘writing’ and dropping it to represent the power of the pen and subsequently the loss of that power with a more dramatic effect.

He also articulated the need to perform technical dance movements within the canon of Chinese classical dance.

During our discussion after watching his movement sequence, he felt that his creation process was very different from the ‘typical’ Chinese dance choreographic process, which tends to be more straightforward, with a clear structure and a climax. There is comparatively more entertainment value in Chinese classical dances as well, due to the emphasis on advanced technical skills and dramatic performance.

In conclusion he felt that it is possible to use Chinese classical dance to portray a contemporary Chinese person, because there is some allowance for a wider variety of physical performance, but it is difficult, because there are still many aesthetic and canonical rules in place.

戏曲文生 Workshop Musings

Elizabeth:

Knowing that we only had 5 sessions to learn about a particular genre of male character performance in Chinese opera, I was worried that the scope of the content would be too wide to cover in the short span of time, and that we would not be able to delve deep enough to make any kind of comparison to Chinese classical dance beyond a rather superficial level.

Thankfully, 林老师 is trained in dance, Chinese opera and some forms of wushu. Her wide range of expertise in different Chinese movement forms made her more inclined to draw comparisons between them, and this was also evident from her occasional comments when she was teaching us the 小生 movements.

Personally I felt that the difference between the way the 水袖 was used in Chinese classical dance and Chinese opera was the most obvious. In dance, the sleeves are used to express emotion and expand the shape and dynamic of the dancing body.

The dancer uses the sleeves to express emotion through the kind of dynamic used to manipulate the sleeves. For example, a light-hearted 仰袖 would be performed much softer, the range of motion would mostly be at the elbow, and thus the movement would look more graceful, as compared to a 仰袖 which projected despair (this would probably involve more spinal extension towards the ceiling, the use of the full range of motion at the shoulder joint and a corresponding head movement and facial expression).

However, in Chinese opera, the sleeves are only one part of the character. 小生 sleeves tend to be shorter than those of the female characters, and the purpose of the sleeves are not to extend the projection of the performer’s body, but to express certain emotions. However, the way one can express emotion in Chinese opera depends on the role he/she is playing. ‘Despair’ as performed by a 小生, would look completely different from ‘despair’ as performed in dance. A 小生 is usually a scholarly and gentlemanly character, and thus will not extend his movements beyond his kinesphere. In fact, his movements are mostly contained and less projected than that of 武生 or other 丑角.

In other words, in Chinese classical dance, 水袖舞 is very much about the spatial and dynamic relationship between the dancing body and the cloth, whereas for a 小生 in Chinese opera, 水袖 is only one of other ways whereby a performer can express emotion. In both performing arts, skill in manipulating the sleeves are vital, but the methods are different, due to the difference in the length and purpose of using the sleeves.

Proposed Methodology

In order to answer question 1: how these traditional and foreign elements were combined to become Chinese classical dance.

I will look for certain martial arts (i.e. wushu sword and taichi) practitioners, as well as traditional Chinese opera practitioners and, using my own, and other Chinese dance-trained bodies as canvases, to learn these forms. After taking these workshops (I have not had prior training in these forms), I will conduct movement research in the studio in order to find a way to articulate how our bodies translate these martial arts and opera movements that we’ve learnt into ‘aestheticised’ versions in our Chinese classical dance practice.

The experience of how each individual participant makes the aesthetic and physical connections between the traditional movement forms and their own practice of Chinese classical dance will be recorded after each series of workshops.

Workshop series 1: Traditional Chinese Opera
30 Jan to 3 Feb 戏曲文生 by 林美琴
6 Feb to 21 Feb 戏曲武生 by 郭绪欠

Workshop series 2: Chinese Martial Arts
3 April to 7 April 杨氏太极拳 by Jaleen
17 April to 21 April 武术剑 by Justin Neo

Answering question 2: what issues might arise when Chinese classical dance is performed by contemporary Chinese people (who might identify differently from the official articulations of Chinese culture), requires discussion and reflection from the participants involved.

Each participant will be required to select a contemporary Chinese person to depict through a dance solo, ensuring that there are available resources to develop an in-depth understanding of that person’s background, as well as body language. By selecting contemporary Chinese people to depict through Chinese classical dance, each participant’s thinking and creative process will be recorded.

Further discussion will be conducted to question the participant’s initial thoughts and provoke greater reflection in order to develop a clearer articulation of the restrictions and possibilities in relation to the representative potential of Chinese classical dance in the contemporary context.

Research Question

My research focuses on Chinese classical dance. The form of Chinese classical dance is derived from a combination of ballet, traditional Chinese opera and Chinese martial arts. The core values of Chinese classical dance, however, is to represent the “essence of Chinese culture” (as articulated by the People’s Republic of China, from its creation till today). This research project seeks to question (1) how these traditional and foreign elements were combined to become Chinese classical dance, as well as (2) what issues might arise when Chinese classical dance is performed by contemporary Chinese people (who might identify differently from the official articulations of Chinese culture).

I seek to juxtapose a very fixed notion of Chinese culture, as articulated by the official Chinese classical dance syllabi, with the myriad of ethnic Chinese worldwide who identify as ‘Chinese’ in very varied ways. If the traditional dance form presents an ‘ideal Chineseness’ that the contemporary Chinese should strive towards, what challenges, or possibilities, would arise then, when contemporary bodies perform Chinese classical dance?