Learning Resources
Summary and Prospects
Extracts from a dialogue between Danny Yung and Edward Lam
Edited by Ho Ding-wai

After the presentation of Solos - Experimenting Traditional Chinese Operas, Danny Yung (artistic director) and Edward Lam (secretary of archives), summarize the project and its future prospects.

The experimentation process and its results

Under the banner of 'experimentation in traditional Chinese opera', what kind of experiment has taken place on the stage of Sheung Wan Civic Centre? Danny Yung points out that experimentation is a creative dialectic that encompasses the collective endeavors of the artistic community. It is not just limited to voicing the perspectives of those directly involved with Chinese opera, or with showcasing the noteworthy talent s of five artists. It is a process of discussion and experimentation on the possibilities of performance.

In order to experiment, it is necessary to have a secure and hands-off environment. One of the most important aims of this event is to provide a platform where art practitioners can feel free to experiment, and thus observe each other and generate ideas. As director and artistic director, Danny Yung supervises overall activities as well as the on-stage performance. He starts by formulating ways to put artists at ease with their inspirations. As to his role as "director", this consists of minimal and appropriate adjustments of performers self-expression and creative interactions.

For him, the experiment itself is more meaningful than its results. He brings up the adage "impenetrable to the last drop" as a typical example of the cult of the artist-as-artwork, and the pressures which accompany such a notion. As there is no concept of a director in traditional opera, the creative processes differ greatly to that of contemporary dram a. Tradition al opera encourages actors to maintain a strong sense of individuality. As a result, there is little room for dialectical elaboration. It is necessary to first understand these points when collaborating with traditional opera actors. The first role of a director is thus to provide the necessary space and belief in actors to encourage self-confidence and enthusiasm, and to establish mutual trust and respect. Here they can begin to explore questions of consciousness and other matters related to "performance ".

Regarding specific performances, acknowledgement goes to attempted breakthroughs by individual artists - some "experiments" based on existing foundations; others jumping out of traditions in order to "experiment". Such "experiments", whether progressive or revolutionary, being the difference of 50 to 100 paces, are regarded with equal importance. He does not view high-risk experiments as more valuable, since as experiments, it is not necessary to take into account whether they are of a high or low risk.

The risks and pressures of experimentation

Edward Lam point s out that with the presence of risk, there will inevitably be a sense of pressure during the process of experimentation. For participating artists performing these experiments, what are the kinds of people and pressures that they face?

Yung fee ls that they face, on one hand, the pressure of traditional fans, including institutional (political and market) pressures. On the other hand, there is the peer pressure that exists between colleagues within the troupe itself. All of this contributes to conservatism and lack of progress. However, Yung points out that Chinese opera is a kind of Live Art which allows artists to carry out experiments within the limits of their individual frameworks. Unfortunately, the hierarchical structure of China's artistic environment has led to a lack of respect towards the development of individual artistic culture.

The relationship between conversation and development

Turning to development, Edward Lam questions the relationship between conversation and development. Danny Yung frankly states that the easiest way to save Live Art is to record it for posterity, but what follows after this? He believes that art has a life of its own, and artists have their own vitality. The act of recording cannot in itself improve an artist's development, but it can give an opportunity for the artists to clearly watch themselves, providing basis for further development. Documentation in itself is meaningless, just as when something becomes a national treasure, it will not grow in importance if left untouched.

What then is the problem with the development of Chinese opera? Yung points out that from exchanges with participating artists, the key to development of Chinese opera is still a constitutional issue. The existing system's philosophy, vision, structure and functioning are strictly behind the times, and many fundamental problems are caused by the relationship between structure and creativity. China does not have the vision for an up-to-date cultural policy.

The basic relationship between content and form

Edward Lam notes the political connotations of the event. Firstly, there is a person from outside the system who introduces artistic and political improvements to professionals on the inside. Secondly, such activities enhance participating artists' awareness of institutional issues to the extent that they would request for changes to be made.

Danny Yung points out that he never considers his role as that of an outsider or insider. It is just a dialogue between artists on the similarities and differences between contemporary performance and that which existed 500 years before; bearing in mind advancements in science and technology, as well as 500 years of cultural and social development. Even if our art can only be a form of copy, it cannot just duplicate, but should formulate creative strategies, taking the initiative to target situations and make the appropriate response. With this in focus, we can then deal with the basic relationship between content and form in performance.

With regard to awareness of institutional issues, Yung thinks that the current event definitely provides a platform for exploring individual creative environments. Naturally, there are systems that exist within creative environments. These include theatrical systems, comment systems, market systems, and so on. Yung feels that through exchange, it is possible to deal with one’s own relationship with the system, as well as the relationship between creativity and the system. Yung further observes that dialogues between art practitioners have progressed from discussions to deconstruction, to construction. Yung points out that this pure and frank exchange between artists is difficult to find in the mainland.

For the future, Danny Yung considers Hong Kong as the best place for the development of Chinese opera, as Hong Kong has the best conditions for Chinese opera experimentation. Here, there is no traditional, political, or cultural baggage. Only an open pluralistic culture that allows first class artists to freely develop traditional art forms with individual integrity and modern concepts, in the absence of market and political pressures.

What is Live Art?

The early 1990s saw the rise of dance theatre. Dance and drama gradually merged and the boundaries between the two became blurred. Later, with the introduction of video art and the disintegration of traditional narrative theatre, the role of 'drama' repeatedly came into question. The emergence of non-narrative multi­ media video art without specific form or structure become known as Live Art.


Hong Hong

Hong was selected by the US Fulbright Program as Exchange Artist in 1986. Her Cantonese operatic performances have won great acclaim inside and outside the field. She is also reputed to be the direct lineage holder of the Hong performing style. She began piano and ballet training in Hong Kong at a young age. After returning to Mainland China with her parents, who are both renowned Cantonese operatic artists, Hong majored in piano at the High School Affiliated to the Central Conservatory of Music in Beijing, as well as subsequently majoring in Ballet at the Dance School of Ministry of Culture in Beijing, Peking opera and Kunqu at Shanghai Traditional Opera School, and finally focusing on Cantonese opera at the Academy of Cantonese Opera in Guangdong. Her written works include Research on the Origin and Performance of Cantonese Opera.

Hong Hong

Hong was selected by the US Fulbright Program as Exchange Artist in 1986. Her Cantonese operatic performances have won great acclaim inside and outside the field. She is also reputed to be the direct lineage holder of the Hong performing style. She began piano and ballet training in Hong Kong at a young age. After returning to Mainland China with her parents, who are both renowned Cantonese operatic artists, Hong majored in piano at the High School Affiliated to the Central Conservatory of Music in Beijing, as well as subsequently majoring in Ballet at the Dance School of Ministry of Culture in Beijing, Peking opera and Kunqu at Shanghai Traditional Opera School, and finally focusing on Cantonese opera at the Academy of Cantonese Opera in Guangdong. Her written works include Research on the Origin and Performance of Cantonese Opera.

Ke Jun

Director of the Jiangsu Kunqu Opera Troupe, is a National Class One Performer of the PRC in wusheng (military) role. His has studied with Zhang Jinlong, Hou Shaokui, and renowned Kunqu artists of the Chuan generation- Zhou Huanying, Bao Chuanduo and Zheng Chuanijan. His acclaimed performances included Flee by Night from The Chronicle of the Precious Sword, The Plunge from The Peach Blossom Fan and Dream of Han Dan Dream, among many others. Along with other awards, he won the Plum Blossom Prize at the 22nd Chinese Drama Awards, the Class One Award of the Second Young Operatic Actors Competition, the Orchid Prize for Best Performance and the Outstanding Performance Award of the Second Provincial Opera Festival.