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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 performance.

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.
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