British Man Devotes Life to Mastering Beijing Opera
Forty years ago, 2,000 troupes crisscrossed China performing traditional operas, a unique blend of performing arts. Now, there are just 76 troupes, and Beijing opera is largely seen as a dying art. But it has an unlikely new champion: a British man who has devoted more than a decade to mastering Chinese opera and bringing it to new audiences.
"I saw Beijing opera in London in 1993, and it just shocked me. It really moved me," says Ghaffar Pourazar.
Pourazar is British, born to Iranian Azeri parents. At age 32, he gave up his life as a computer animator and enrolled in a Beijing opera school, drawn by the difficulty of mastering the art form.
Onstage, the actors not only act, they sing and dance while performing heart-stopping feats of acrobatics and sword fighting.
Pourazar spent five years undergoing punishing training at a school so dirty he describes it as a big toilet. He was decades older than the other students, and he tested his body on a daily basis, starting at dawn with unbelievably painful contortions.
Now, he is presenting a hybrid, bilingual opera production based on the much-loved legend of the Monkey King, a mischievious monkey born from a stone, who learns supernatural skills and uses them to challenge the Emperor of Heaven.
Although some old pros look down on him, Pourazar has earned the praise of many Chinese opera veterans and neophytes alike.
But the popularity of Beijing opera is fading fast, with young Chinese audiences turning to karaoke, DVDs and the Internet, much to Pourazar's sorrow.
"I used to get really angry at the state of the opera, angry at the Chinese people. This is yours, you made this, this incredible, beautiful thing. It's also you who are destroying it, who are forgetting it, throwing it away," he laments.
Pourazar has now decided what to do. He wants to reinvent Beijing opera for a wider audience. But it's a measure of just how great the problem is that the very innovations that may just keep Beijing opera alive also risk destroying its most traditional forms.
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