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What's New

Venerated Culture Gets An Ultra - Modern Home

Standing alone at the edge of the still-developing West Kowloon Cultural District on Austin Road, the Xiqu Centre cuts a stunning and imposing architectural figure – audacious building curves, all-white exterior, and seemingly aloof from the hurly burly of the nearby city. Walk inside, and Xiqu’s ascetic but welcoming interiors deliver a visceral visual treat to visitors. It’s hard to conceive that such a modern venue is now the new home – and in time, the keeper – of the city’s Cantonese Opera culture. But that’s exactly what Xiqu, a major component of this long-awaited cultural district, is intended for.

As Louis Yu Kwok-lit, Executive Director of Performing Arts for theWest Kowloon Cultural Authority, enthuses, “it’s bamboo theatre getting a post-modern home, and with it, a new and younger audience” – alluding to traditional holiday performances of Cantonese opera at temporary open-air venues made of bamboo scaffolding. With Cantonese opera included in 2009 on UNESCO’s Representative List of Intangible Heritage of Humanity, it’s high time and welcome news that Cantonese opera, an operatic form comprising music, singing, dance, acrobatics and movement, is finally getting its due.

Yu, who took up his role in 2010, is a veteran of public sector art development. He was formerly Chief Executive of the Hong Kong Arts Development Council, and before that, Chief Executive Officer of the Hong Kong Arts Centre. He wears his passion for Cantonese opera on his sleeve and is over the moon that, finally, Hong Kong has a world-class performance facility to properly pay tribute to this venerable art form.

To create a well-deserved new home for Cantonese Opera, the Authority engaged the renowned Hong Kong–born architect Bing Wing Thom, whose inspiring design survives him as a tribute to his heritage roots. The large complex encompasses the Atrium; a large public space with areas for exhibitions and public performances; a 1073-seat Grand Theatre with state-of the art technical facilities; Tea House Theatre, an elegant and intimate venue designed with flexible seating – up to 200 – for smaller scale performances; a seminar hall; and eight fully equipped high-quality rehearsal studios.

Louis Yu emphasises that the theatres were tailor-made for Chinese opera performances. For example, each theatre has large built-in subtitling panels for both Chinese (vertical) and English (horizontal) to guide audiences through the opera content. To handle Cantonese opera’s famously loud percussion instruments, especially the gongs, the theatre uses extra-absorbent acoustic materials to dampen the sound. Finally, the opera is sized to keep audience members close enough to the performers to appreciate their facial expressions and finer body gestures.

Yu explains the Tea House Theatre will play a key role in revitalizing Cantonese opera, and is his “secret weapon” to help expand the art form to a younger segment of performers and fans – an important mission of Xiqu, passing on the art to the next generation. The Xiqu Centre is also developing its own performance troupe, dubbed Tea House Rising Stars, who can hone their skills with smaller scale performances at the Tea House Theatre.

Tea House Theatre is also a fun venue to visit. For example, it offers a “tea and dim sum performance”, in which for $318 guests enjoy an afternoon opera performance while sipping tea and eating dim sum – all the seats accommodate a tea cup and a plate of sim sum – a most enchanting way to enjoy an opera.

Since it opened in January 2019, Xiqu has been busily putting together a world-class programme of performances, including top-flight Chinese opera from other genres such as Peking Opera and Shanghai Kunqu Opera. With highprofile operas such as The Reincarnation of Red Plum expected to sell out, Xiqu has instituted an online ticketing system, making it easier to register for and purchase tickets (www.westkowloon.hk).

Whether you are a Chinese opera aficionado, a casual fan or a stranger to this performance art, and whether or not you speak Cantonese, a performance at the Xiqu Centre is a sure-fire opportunity to enjoy and appreciate this deep culture – so make sure you give it a try.

 

Xiqu Centre: 88 Austin Road West, Tsim Sha Tsui, Kowloon;
Telephone: 2200 0217; www.westkowloon.hk

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