Taking it to the next stage
Now in its 19th year, the Meet in Beijing Arts Festival has seen 30,000 artists from 120 countries perform, attracting over 4.2 million audience members, Chen Nan reports.
The capital's largest annual celebration of dance, music, drama and art - the Meet in Beijing Arts Festival - will see nearly 600 artists from 35 performing arts groups from 25 countries and regions gather together in Beijing.
Kicking off on Thursday and running through May 25, the monthlong art festival will stage around 50 live performances, three art exhibitions, an outdoor music festival and a number of public art education activities, providing audiences with a lavish and diverse choice of events.
Now in its 19th year, the festival normally invites a single country to act as guest of honor. However, in a break with annual tradition, and to mark the first Conference on Dialogue of Asian Civilizations taking place in May, this year's event will center around the theme of Asian culture and showcase artists from around the region, according to Li Jinsheng, the president of the China Arts and Entertainment Group, the festival's organizer.
The festival also aims to promote cultural exchanges among countries involved in the Belt and Road Initiative. With a diverse range of programs brought to the festival by participating countries, Li hopes the festival will serve as an important platform for building a community of sharing and understanding.
Since 2000, the Meet in Beijing Arts Festival has seen some 30,000 artists from 120 countries and regions perform and attracted more than 4.2 million audience members to attend.
This year, the opening show will be held on April 25 at the National Center for the Performing Arts, which will see the China National Traditional Orchestra perform under the baton of conductor Liu Sha, along with musicians from many other Asian countries including violinist Ustad Rais Ahmed Khan from Pakistan, the Kinnaree Art Troupe from Thailand, the Has-Sak ethno-folk ensemble from Kazakhstan, and the singers Do Thi Thanh Hoa from Vietnam and Suizenji Kiyoko from Japan. Soloists from the China National Traditional Orchestra, including pipa player Zhao Cong and percussionist Zhu Jianping, will join in the show. Their repertoire will include musical works from China and all around Asia.
According to Xi Qiang, president of the China National Traditional Orchestra, the theme of the opening concert will be "Harmonious Asia", where the audience will see more than 10 traditional musical instruments from countries around Asia being played.
Ballet Gala of Asia, a show given by four ballet companies from around the region - the National Ballet of China, the Universal Ballet from South Korea, the Philippine Ballet Theatre and the Hong Kong Ballet - will be held on May 14 at the Tianqiao Performing Arts Center, featuring programs that include extracts from Swan Lake, Don Quixote and Le Corsaire.
The art troupe of Brigham Young University, one of the largest private universities in the United States, has been performing in China since 1979. To mark the 40th anniversary of BYU's first tour of China, the troupe will perform a range of musical works, from classical and folk to Broadway, during two concerts at the Tianqiao Performing Arts Center on May 24 and 25.
"After diplomatic relations were established between the two countries in 1979, BYU representatives traveled to China. We have taken our friendship from there," says Jeffrey F. Ringer of the BYU. "We have come back to China many times over the past 40 years, and this year we are returning with a troupe of around 200 members."
Zhang Huoding, one of the country's best-known Peking Opera stars, will conclude the art festival with a performance of the classic work, Farewell My Concubine, on May 25 at the Chang'an Grand Theater. The opera tells of a love story between the warlord of the Chu Kingdom, Xiang Yu, and his concubine, Yu, who ends up giving her life to the man she loves.
Adapted from the Kunqu Opera piece, Qian Jin Ji, written by Ming Dynasty (1368-1644) writer Shen Cai, Farewell My Concubine was first performed by Peking Opera masters Yang Xiaolou (1878-1938) and Shang Xiaoyun (1900-1976) in 1918 in Beijing. In 1922, Peking Opera master Mei Lanfang (1894-1961), along with Yang, performed the piece, which later became one the best-known pieces in Mei's repertoire. The sword dance in Farewell My Concubine was Mei's signature creation based on the knowledge he gained from his martial arts masters.
The 48-year-old Zhang, a former actress with the China National Peking Opera Company who now teaches at the National Academy of Chinese Theater Arts in Beijing, has performed in sellout shows across the country, including a solo show at the Great Hall of the People in 2007.
It has been her long-held wish to stage the classic work.
"Zhang Huoding has been hoping to adapt the Peking Opera piece Farewell My Concubine for the last 10 years. It's a challenging performance for her, especially the interpretation of the sword dance," says Ba Tu, the president of the National Academy of Chinese Theater Arts.
In 2015, Zhang closed the annual arts festival with the Peking Opera pieces The Jewelry Pouch and Dream of the Boudoir. The same year, she made her debut in the United States, and caused a sensation when she performed the two famous Peking Opera works The Legend of the White Snake and The Jewelry Pouch, at the Lincoln Center in New York. In 2016, Zhang performed The Legend of the White Snake at the close of the Meet in Beijing Arts Festival in the Chinese capital.
Other highlights of the arts festival will see the National Academic Bolshoi Opera and Ballet Theater of the Republic of Belarus perform Spartacus. Japanese-Brazilian musician Lisa Ono will give her concert Midnight Rose: Jazz and Bossa Nova, and Chinese singer Li Yugang will perform his cross-dressing show, Lady Zhaojun, based on the legend of the Chinese beauty.
Surreal Poetics Contemporary Aragonese Art, an art exhibition held from April 30 to May 3 at the National Agricultural Exhibition Center, will showcase works by artists from Aragon, Spain, including photographer Ramon Massats, sculptor Pablo Serrano and painter Antonio Saura.