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Art for the ages

By Liu Xiangrui | China Daily | Updated: 2013-04-09 09:55

Art for the ages

Yan Dandan (center) and other troupe members apply makeup backstage before a performance. Photos by Liu Xiangrui / China Daily

An 18-year-old opera performer represents both the past and future of traditional Chinese opera, according to Liu Xiangrui.

Yan Dandan has lived like a gypsy from an early age and made her debut on the opera stage at 9.

As the youngest member of her Sichuan Opera troupe, from Qingquan in suburban Chengdu, 18-year-old Yan has traveled across Sichuan, following in the footsteps of her parents, who are both performers.

She dropped out of school to ease the family's financial burden and allow her younger sister to live with their aunt and attend school.

After concluding a two-and-half-hour performance she lies on her narrow bed and plays with her cellphone, while recounting her life.

"I was very curious and excited at first," Yan says of her apprenticeship, before admitting it was tough process.

To meet the strict requirements of her parents, she had to endlessly repeat movements and vocalizations. She says learning acrobatics was, literally, physical torture.

The hard work, however, paid off. Yan recalls how she stood on the stage with her father for the first time at 9 and acted in Lady White Snake, a popular traditional play.

"I remember the day well," says Yan's mother, Deng Hong, 44. "Her small figure was a contrast to the adults on stage and quite funny. Tears rolled down my cheeks and I kept telling people around me, 'That's my daughter, that's my daughter!'"

"She is a quick learner, and a gifted singer and actor," Deng adds.

Yan can do acrobatic fighting, which is generally done by men, and often plays wudan, a woman lead in fight scenes.

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