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Keeping the flame burning

By Fang Aiqing and Yang Jun ( China Daily )

Updated: 2018-02-21

Veteran actress Shao Zhiqing has devoted her life to promoting Guizhou's Huadeng opera, Fang Aiqing and Yang Jun report

The Moon Shines on the Maplewoods Ferry, a classic Huadeng opera play of Southwestern China's Guizhou province, is a landmark in the 300-year history of the local opera form. And it earned lead actress Shao Zhiqing, the Plum Blossom Prize, the highest theater award in China, in 2007.

Shao, a delegate to the 19th CPC National Congress - who was recently recognized as one of the representative inheritors of this national intangible cultural heritage by the Ministry of Culture - is a key figure in the development and promotion of Huadeng opera, which she has been involved in for 40 years.

Meanwhile, she has so far given more than 28 lectures on the spirit of the 19th CPC National Congress, both in Guizhou and other parts of China, including Shanghai and Guangzhou, as a representative of the nation's literary and art workers.

Speaking about Huadeng opera, Shao, who aims to focus on boosting its repertoire and training, says: "President Xi's report to the 19th CPC National Congress has not only boosted my confidence in Guizhou's Huadeng opera, but also points to the future direction."

Keeping the flame burning

The Moon Shines on the Maplewoods Ferry depicts two decades in the lives of traditional winemaking families at the beginning of the 20th century. And without any villain or dramatic events, it showcases Guizhou's renowned wine culture.

The film version of the award-winning play was released in December. It was highlighted during the "Guizhou Cultural Week" at the 19th China Shanghai International Arts Festival in October.

As the director of the Guizhou Huadeng Opera Theater, the sole professional troupe of the local opera form, Shao pays a lot of attention to creating realistic plays.

As of now, work on two original plays is under way. One is set in Huamao village of Guizhou province, known for its poverty alleviation achievements, and which President Xi visited in 2015; while the other is based on rural doctors.

Meanwhile, Shao keeps herself occupied with opera performances both in Guiyang, the provincial capital, and at the grass-roots level.

Giving an example of her commitment, Cao Lijie, deputy director of the troupe, says: "Once she was locked in a toilet right before a performance. She then tried so hard to open the door that her hands were bleeding, but ignoring her injuries she got onto the stage.

"She has driven us to be practical and steadfast in our work."

Even a lack of infrastructure fails to put off Shao. And the troupe typically prepares several stage designs to suit various surroundings. "We are even ready for outdoor performances with a couple of lights," she says.

Of all the 40 students recruited for professional training in Huadeng opera in 1978, Shao is the only one who remains in the troupe.

The next batch was enrolled in 1987, and it was not until 2013, with cooperation between the troupe and Yunnan Arts University, that there was a professional training class of 30.

Now, recruitment for the next batch in cooperation with the Beijing Vocational College of Opera and Arts, is on.

For the past 26 years, the troupe has had to recruit students that majored in singing, dancing or acting before teaching them Huadeng opera from scratch.

"It was hard for them," says Shao. "Sometimes I taught my students six to eight hours at a time, sentence by sentence. I could see that they were getting tired, but I had no choice."

And things may be about to change soon. Guizhou's provincial government has recently released its suggestions on the development of local opera forms.

And with more national and local support, Shao, who is still in the thick of things when it comes to Huadeng opera, says: "I will try my best to create high-quality works that are worthy of the times."

Contact the writer at fangaiqing@chinadaily.com.cn

Keeping the flame burning

 Keeping the flame burning

Actress Shao Zhiqing won the Plum Blossom Prize, the highest theater award in China in 2007, because of her performance in the classic Huadeng opera play The Moon Shines on the Maplewoods Ferry. Photos provided to China Daily

(China Daily 02/21/2018 page5)

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