The term Pekin Opera is used to define a phenomenon of the Chinese theatre tradition which originated in the former empire. This unique artistic form combines music theatre styles of 314 different places in the Chinese Empire. In the early nineteenth century they melted into one style, which reached its highest perfection in the early twentieth century. Now it still affects us with its masterly skill and extraordinary artistic impression.
Various theatre forms – puppet theatre, comedy, dance forms derived from the old rituals, music and poetry – constitute significant elements of this theatre. The tradition of Confucianism provides the basis of approaching music and theatre. The Buddhist legends widen the repertoire of the oldest legendary themes. The present style of the theatre is a combination of these old traditions.
Four basic elements of theatre expression: recitation and dialogues, songs, theatre forms of traditional martial arts, combined with acrobatics, and pantomime along with dance forms constitute the foundations of it. Directing consists in integrating these elements in a harmonious way. Extremely competent and versatile actors are required to be able to perform it. They start their training at an early age, usually at eight. Many of them come from the families of artistic traditions going back to many generations. The training begins from the basic acrobatics, the candidates are asked to stand on their hands for over 30 minutes until they lose their balance and fall. They practice for ten hours a day, also martial arts. Having finished a basic course they start a master course, where they learn singing, speaking and dancing.
The performances of the Pekin Opera Company, especially when the astonishing dancer Oi Shu Fang, a prima donna whose company performed at the royal court in England, appears on the stage, are saturated with a special atmosphere. They become extraordinary events not only for the Chinese spectators, but also for other people all over the world. They gather large audiences, arising their admiration and enchantment over the exotic and masterly forms.