We recently enjoyed the rare treat of seeing one of the world’s leading Peking Opera troupes at Sadler’s Wells Theatre here in London. We were invited to see “Warrior Women” which has rarely been performed outside of China.
The China National Peking Opera Company were performing in the UK for the first time in ten years. Initially beginning in Liverpool, they put on shows of the classic tales “Farewell My Concubine” and “Warrior Women of Yang”.
The cast of the show are the equivalent of prima ballerinas in China and considered masters of the art. Lead actress Guo Yaoyao plays the 100 year-old matriarch and leader of the Yang women, She Tai Jun. Liu Kuikui is the show’s “painted face” and plays the opposing General Wang Wen.
Set in the appropriately named Song Dynasty, it is the tale of the Yang family, whose husbands, sons, brothers and nephews have been killed in battle defending the Emperor’s realm from rampant invaders. The army needs generals to lead them, so the Yang women take up the mantle to protect the kingdom’s borders and avenge their loved ones.
The first half of the show consists mostly of classical opera songs to establish the story. The sounds of Chinese opera are quite unique, and there is in an incredible amount of vocal control going on in every word that is spoken or sung. Whether it be the tiniest pointing of a finger or the pouring of a drink, the physical performances are also incredibly precise and executed with perfect timing.
The second half is all about the battles. As the opposing armies run on to the stage with their swords and spears, they fight briefly, performing basic acrobatic rolls on the floor. When the Yang women appear, the choreography builds into a dizzying display of twirling weapons and spinning silken robes, as they fight off up to four opponents at a time. When the battle scenes increase in intensity, so does the physical action. Soldiers leap, roll and somersault around the stage. The height, speed, timing and precision of their gymnastics display is nothing short of incredible. Particularly impressive were the four soldiers who performed a line of straightback somersaults, all in time, whilst holding the cumbersome Guandao weapon!
Video highlights of “Warrior Women of Yang”
It is easy to see why former Chinese opera performers such as Jackie Chan, Sammo Hung, Yuen Biao and Yuen Wah, went on to become some of the best onscreen stunt performers. The meticulousness of the physical skills required is immense. Opera performers have an incredibly tough training regime from an early age, the payoff being that audiences get to witness these stunts performed live and with apparent ease – no CGI or wires here folks!
If you get the chance to see a full Chinese opera, do take a look. It is a phenomenal demonstration of elegant exactness in terms of vocals, acting, movement and of course, martial arts and acrobatics!
The show is in its final leg of performances, so if you’re looking for something different this weekend, why not go take a look?
Saturday 21 November, 7.30pm Warrior Women of Yang
Sunday 22 November, 7.30pm Warrior Women of Yang
Book your tickets here before they sell out!