| NEW YORK
NEW YORK Aug 20 With lavishly embroidered
costumes, elaborate makeup and acrobatics, a troupe of nearly 90
singers, actors and musicians of the Peking Opera begins a
special U.S. tour on Wednesday at New York's Lincoln Center.
Peking Opera, known as jingju in Chinese, is the country's
national form of theater, combining unique storytelling,
acrobatics, acting and martial arts with Chinese singing and
The tour by the Jingju Theater Company of Beijing, with
performances in New York and Washington, is timed to mark the
120th anniversary of the birth of China's greatest opera star,
Mei Lanfang, who introduced his art form to U.S. audiences
nearly 90 years ago.
"This tour is special because it is by the particular troupe
that is the direct artistic inheritor of Mei Lanfang's art,"
said Elizabeth Wichmann-Walczak, an expert on the art form who
directs the Asian theater program at the University of Hawaii in
Mei Lanfang toured the United States in 1930 and is credited
with revolutionizing the tradition of men performing female
roles. He created a unique style known as the "Mei Lanfang
"It was the first time that it was seriously introduced in
the United States by an important artist and company,"
Wichmann-Walczak said about the U.S. tour, adding that Mei
Lanfang was celebrated by theater and film stars of the time.
His 80-year-old son, Mei Baojiu, one of China's top opera
stars, organized the program for the current U.S. tour, which
follows in his father's footsteps. It includes five shorter
plays each featuring a major female character that would have
been played by his father, and a full-length production.
All of the plays were created by Mei Lanfang, who died in
1961 at age 66.
"We want to let the American people understand that Mei
Lanfang's art is a unique form of drama that tells a story
through song and dance. It represents and exemplifies Chinese
Opera," Mei Baojiu said in an interview.
"Bringing the Peking Opera to the United States not only
provides an important cultural exchange, but also strengthens
the China-U.S. relationship," he added.
Peking Opera began developing at the end of 18th century and
was recognized as the national form of theater in the 19th
century as it spread throughout China.
"Every major city and province has a jingju company," said
"It is a unique theater form. The actors are the major
creators," she added.
The actors traditionally composed the music, which is part
of character interpretation, an created every aspect of the
"It is really a total theater form using all of the elements
of the performing arts," said Wichmann-Walczak.
The troupe will perform Aug. 20, 23, 24 at Lincoln Center
before traveling to Washington for two performances at the John
F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts.
(Editing by Eric Kelsey and Gunna Dickson)