Oct 11, 2012

The Central Academy of Drama (CAD) attracts thousands of aspiring screen actors annually, but this year offered a Beijing Opera major for the first time since the school was established in 1950.

Xu Hang, a 17-year-old student from Harbin, capital of Heilongjiang province, was one of the first to apply.I felt so excited, I couldn't wait to complete the registration, Xu says.Xu's passion for Beijing Opera was ignited aged 9 when she watched a TV program about the venerable art form.


As a kid, I liked to keep changing channels while watching TV, Xu says. But when I saw those elaborate silk costumes and colorfully painted faces on the screen, I was deeply moved and threw away the remote control. The art form was stunningly beautiful.Xu then took Beijing Opera training classes every day after school.After two years of study, with her parents' support, Xu decided to undergo more formal training and applied to enroll at the Beijing-based High School Affiliated to the National Academy of Chinese Theater Arts, a prominent school for students interested in Beijing Opera.After I moved to Beijing to focus on learning Beijing Opera, I found there were a lot more things to learn that require painstaking effort, Xu says, referring to skills such as a siren-like falsetto and turning somersaults.The more I learn about the 200-year-old opera, the more I love it, she says. It's a national treasure full of amazing kungfu.After six years of professional training in Beijing, Xu says she felt confident about the auditions to CAD.If I'm admitted to the academy, I will keep perfecting my skills and enhance my knowledge, Xu says.I hope I can be on TV someday, performing Beijing Opera and shining like the actor I saw in my childhood.Like Xu, Li Wanjin is also a candidate from Heilongjiang province, who came to Beijing to learn Beijing Opera.

The 14-year-old is the youngest student among 3,700 aspirants vying for 60 spots in the academy's performing department.


Because the Beijing Opera major has no age limit, young people like me can compete for a place in the academy's Bachelor of Arts program, Li says.

Li says her love of opera is due to her parents, who are piaoyou, or loyal fans and amateur performers of Beijing Opera.When I was a little girl, my parents often sang atonal arias that sometimes lasted for a couple of minutes. Their preferred TV programs were all about Beijing Opera, Li recalls.Influenced by them, I gradually became glued to the opera channel on CCTV, she says.

In 2005, Li's parents sent her to Beijing Vocational Institute of Local Opera and Arts to start her six-year formal training.

At first, I was impressed by the older students, armed with lances, spears and swords, in elaborately choreographed battle scenes, Li says. Later, I fell for the classical skills and techniques.

For example, to portray a woman's genteel bearing, Beijing Opera performers need to walk gracefully on tiptoes. To learn the skill known as the ballet in Beijing Opera, Li's feet became severely blistered and she wore out many shoes.

It's a difficult kungfu that is on the brink of extinction. So I cannot let it die, no matter how painful it is to master it, Li says. When I eventually mastered it after years of hard training, I was overwhelmed with joy.Li's diligence and gift for Beijing Opera led her to being selected as a member of the student troupe organized by her school that gave performances in Spain, Italy and France during the past two years.

When foreign audiences shouted 'bravo' at us, I felt extremely proud, Li says. It proved that all the suffering was worth it.Li says, whether CAD accepts or not, she will continue to pursue her Beijing Opera dreams.If I make it, I'll grab any chance to perform Beijing Opera, improving my skill and enhancing its popularity, especially among the younger generation.

This year, there were 47 applicants for the 15 places in CAD's Beijing Opera major.

Source: China Daily

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