"You see, they are noisy now, but when they're on stage they are quite serious!" says Xu Yuntong with a kind smile on her face.
The room in Yushan Town No 1 Primary School in Kunshan is full of excited children, all here to attend Xu's Kunqu Opera class.
The former music teacher has sparked quite a revival in Kunqu Opera in the city where it was first created.
She now has more than 100 children in her club, and several of her students have even won the Little Plum Blossom Award, China's top award for stage performers under 14 years of age.
Xu's class for young Kunqu Opera performers now boasts a group of more than 100 students. [Photo from WeChat account kslydjq]
Kunqu developed from traditional Kunshan folk music during the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644), and it quickly became one of China’s dominant art forms during the 16th to 18th centuries, influencing many other genres of opera including Peking Opera.
But Kunqu fell out of favor during the last hundred years, and Xu was worried that the great art form was in danger of dying out.
She began working on setting up a class to train young children in the traditional art form in 2001, the year Kunqu Opera was added to UNESCO's world intangible cultural heritage list.
Learning Kunqu Opera must start from a young age, according to Xu.
However, creating the opera club was a daunting task, both in terms of finding a location and ensuring her students received excellent teaching.
"I was once just a Kunqu Opera enthusiast, but the kids need professional training, so I had to delve into traditional singing methods myself," says Xu.
"I also invited professional opera teachers to help the kids shape-figure [the stylized movements and gestures that form a crucial part of Chinese opera]."
Thanks to her hard work, her dream finally came true in 2004 when the first Kunqu Opera class took place at No 1 Primary School in Yunshan, and her club has been expanding ever since.
Some of Xu's earliest group of students are now teachers at Yushan Town No 1 Primary School, and help Xu teach Kunqu Opera there. [Photo from WeChat account kslydjq]
Some of her earliest group of students even joined Xu's class as teachers after graduating from college. "I'm very proud of them. It's just like bringing up chickens, as they will carry forward my work," says the veteran teacher.
When asked about her favorite students, Xu can't wait to introduce Li Miao and Yang Huiying: Two lovely, lively girls who were once very shy.
"Teachers' praise and my parents' recognition, as well as all the things Kunqu Opera have taught me are my driving force. I’m confident to keep going," says Li Miao.
"I want to introduce Kunqu Opera to foreigners, as its beauty is worth appreciation all over the world," says Yang Huiying proudly.
Xu Yuntong teaches Li Miao (left) and Yang Huiying (middle) some traditional Kunqu Opera forms at her class in Yushan Town No 1 Primary School, Kunshan. [Photo from WeChat account kslydjq]
Kunqu artist Zhang Jun racked up a new career achievement during his performance at the Modern Drama Valley festival at the Mercedes-Benz Arena on May 18, performing in a venue that is several times larger than what he is used to.
39 American travel professionals were given a two-day tour of the 2,500-year-old city from Sept 13 to 14, including visits to famous sights like Tiger Hill and Shantang Street, as well as chances to experience traditional Chinese art.