Australian Dance Reviews

Opera Warriors

By Renata Ogayar.

Opera Theatre, Sydney Opera House
June 14 2012

Opera Warriors, produced by Shanxi Huajin Dance Art Troupe and choreographed by Xing Shimiao, had a successful opening night at the Opera House last Thursday night, 14th June.

The cast consisted of over sixty highly talented and extremely flexible dancers from China, including celebrated artists who danced at the opening ceremony of the Beijing Olympics Games in 2008.

The story of Opera Warriors is set in northern China at the beginning of the 20th Century. It is about the journey, life, loves, fears and death of three very talented Peking Opera protégés, and their challenges to bring pure beauty to the stage under the strict training of their theatrical master. The Peking Opera is well known for its artistry and distinctive performance styles. However, such perfection, derived from the Chinese traditions and extremely disciplined training methods, is only experienced by the selected few. After their intensive training, they successfully gain entry into a theatrical group and their lives are driven by destiny.

Act One opened with the introduction of grand sets, stage lights, orchestral music and various performers creating live photographs in the village of Xishun. A theatrical group commenced their daily training where the three protégés, brothers Wang, Smart Wu and Heidou, were introduced to the story.

The three talented dancers demonstrated their strength with highly technical jumps and tricks, all of which required extreme flexibility. At one point during this scene, there was a rope hanging from the ceiling. With one foot on the ground and the other looped through the rope in the air, one of the brothers began his technical training. He took his leg into an attitude forward, then to a rond de jambe to the side and continued backwards, landing in the splits with one leg still in the air, demonstrating his elastic-like flexibility.

Act Two followed with a choreographic section based on strength, balance and control.  Upstage left was a traditional Chinese theatre house with a balcony. A group of five ladies with traditional Chinese costumes and extremely high platform wedges entered, walking along the 10 centimetre wide rail of the balcony. The choreography demanded delicate footwork, balance, control and flexibility, whilst successfully holding a ponche. This was a challenging task for the dancers, and it showed with a few nervous wobbles. However, to everyone’s surprise, there was a reveal that shocked everyone. These ladies were actually men!!

Come Act Three, the theatre was crowded, full of noise and excitement, and the audience was enchanted by Smart Wu’s performance. Suddenly a gun was fired; chaos broke out and the scene erupted in sword fights and dramatic moves underpinned by expression and emotion.

Acts Four and Five continued with the clever use of props, more balancing acts and further surprises. At this point in the story, several years had passed and Heidou had a new life in the wilderness with only Yan-Er and monkeys for companions. Through enlightenment and new life experiences, he revolutionised the face of Chinese performing arts and became the famous ‘Monkey King’.

The highlight of the evening was the skill and agility the dancers all brought to the stage including the effortless landings of all their jumps. The talented performers were rewarded with a standing ovation.

Opera Warriors was a wonderful visual spectacular combined with intricate costumes, extravagant sets, dancing, lighting and music and was the perfect way to celebrate the closing of the Year of Chinese Culture in Australia.

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