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‘Hidden’ ethnic arts come to fore at Beijing festival

Chen Nan
Updated: Oct 23,2015 8:42 AM     China Daily

A dance performance of Dai people at the China Ethnic Groups Arts Festival in Beijing. [Photo provided to China Daily]

Traditional cultural activities of different ethnic groups in China, including the Yi people’s celebrations when they chase field pests with torches, the khoomei singing among the Mongolians and antiphonal chanting of the Miao people, are all part of the ongoing Fourth China Ethnic Groups Arts Festival.

Hundreds of singers and dancers from nearly a dozen ethnic groups are performing shows in Beijing through Oct 19. The festival began on Oct 12.

According to festival director Yang Chengzhi, the shows enable audiences to better understand people from the country’s many ethnicities.

“Chinese ethnic groups are known for their vibrant music and dances, which have been passed down for generations,” Yang said during the festival’s opening at the Forbidden City Concert Hall.

“It is a rare chance for people in big cities to enjoy authentic ethnic arts.”

The singing and Dancing Troupe of Yanbian from Jilin province will bring the curtains down on the festival with Chunxiangzhuan (Story of Chunxiang), which is a traditional Korean oral art form, called changju. In this presentation, the actors and actresses are accompanied by a narrator and a drummer onstage.

The traditional Huadeng Opera, Zhuomei and A Luo, which was produced by Huadeng Opera Troupe of Yuxi from Southwest China’s Yunnan province, opened the festival.

Adapted from William Shakespeare’s play, Romeo and Juliet, the opera renamed the two main characters Zhuomei and A Luo and set the story against the background of Yi families.

Wearing ethnic costumes and dancing to the music played on ancient instruments such as the sheng (a wind instrument), the actor and actress talk of their tragic love through old Yi songs.

Intangible cultural heritage is also a highlight of the festival, including the Grand Song of the Dong ethnic group that has hundreds participating in a multi-layered musical performance without a conductor. The Dong people come from Southwest China’s Guizhou province.

Also part of the festival is the Yangxi Opera from East China’s Jiangxi province, which is an art form of the Tujia ethnic group, whose members perform it during ceremonies to commemorate their dead ancestors.

Initiated by the China Ethnic Groups’ Association for the Performing Arts, the first festival was launched in 2007 and is held every three years in different cities.

Wu Jiang, deputy director of the founding body, says the festival also works as a forum to raise awareness among people about the development of such cultures in the country.

“Most of the traditional songs and dances are hidden in China’s remote areas. Many of the folk musicians are old, and some of the music is at risk of dying out,” Wu says.

“We hope the audiences see the beauty of ethnic arts and accept them in the mainstream performances’ market.”

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