|What Is Special In Kunqu Theater
Kunqu is an almost 500-year-old theater that uniquely blends poetic
eloquence, musical refinement and dramatics. It is the
first and foremost Chinese performing art. The plots are
elaborate poems of high literary quality. A bamboo flute
serves as the principal musical instrument to accompany
the singing. Other wind and string instruments, such as
short lute, two-string fiddle, and three-string lute, may
be added to enhance the beauty of the music. A small drum
and a pair of wooden clappers set the beat. Gongs and
cymbals are used to punctuate the action and emotion. All
motions and emotions are expressed by the elaborately
made up and resplendently robed actors through dancing,
singing and acting against a stark background on a bare
stage with minimum props.
No scenery exists on the Kunqu theater stage. The stage setting is
not meant to be realistic. It appeals to the audience's
imagination. Tables and chairs may form a court, a
temple, a study room, even city walls, mountains or
bridges. So no limit is set on time or place on such a
stage. When performers walk in a circle, it may be in
distance a few feet or a few miles or, in some cases, may
well be a few hundred miles. Therefore, though free from
the restriction of space and time, actors are not allowed
to perform at will. On the contrary there exists a common
"yardstick" which all of them have to abide by.
That is to say if one person opens a door at one spot.
Although the door does not exist, anyone who wants to
walk through that door should use the same spot. Due to
the rapidly changing of stage environment, traditionally,
stage crew are allowed to get onto the stage to rearrange
the setting. Audiences overlook their presences.
Unlike the Modern theater "Four Walls" theory, in
traditional Chinese Opera the wall between the performer
and audience does not exist. As a result, high rapports
between audiences and performers occur more often than in
other theaters, for example, "My home is over
there." should act as "My home is over there.
Do you know it?" That is also the reason why
audiences frequently use applauding to acknowledge the
All movements on the stage are performed in accordance with set
conventions, refined by generations of artists combining
external techniques with internal feelings. These
movements are not just copied from the real-life
movements. They are emphasized reproductions. These
conventions are adapted from the traditional Chinese
Tai-Ji for the stage by adding more artistic flourishes.
They are in circles, alternating between motion and
stillness, between silk and steel; moving down before
going up; moving backward before going forward. This is an ingenious combination of reality
with the reality of arts. Hence, the actors
should make the symbol not only physically true
but also spiritually alive, so that audiences get
the feeling of beauty.
Chinese is a monosyllabic tonal language. Although each word has
only one sound, it still has a word melody which is
created by the tone. The combinations of tones make up
for the music of Chinese language. In Kunqu, Poetry is
written to fit a large number of fixed tone patterns.
Melodies are then developed from those tone patterns
without interfering with word melody, so every word in
the poem can be sung out properly.
The performer of the Kunqu theater, a singer, dancer and actor - all
three in one, is the pivotal element on stage. Generally
speaking, makeup is the process of transforming
performers into the roles they are to play. Each kind of
role has unique appearance, props and movements to
identify themselves, for example, artificial beards are
something born of exaggeration to identify old men. But
the most exaggerated articles among the ensemble of Kunqu
opera furnishings and outfittings are the costumes.
Brightly embroidered and shining costumes are far from
the real things in real life.