Peking Opera is over 200 years old. It has seen many great masters, and there are many new talents coming along. But among this younger generation there is one who stands out, for a solid understanding of the Mei style and innovative on-stage technique. She attributes these achievements to her teachers and her faithful audience. She is the Peking Opera star Dong Yuanyuan.
The old Chinese saying goes, "it takes an actor ten years of work for one moment of triumph" - and for Dong YuanYuan it's no different.
Dong Yuanyuan said, "The Women Warriors of The Yang Family" is one of the representative works of my teacher, artist Yang Qiuling. The show has been in her repertoire since she was very young. She was a student of Peking Opera master Mei Lanfang, whose style I've been studying for years. For a long time, I'd been focused on singing. But this show also requires excellent dancing skills."
Dong Yuanyuan said, "Audiences will probably have a whole new understanding of me once they've seen this show. They'll say, oh, Yuanyuan knows both singing and dancing - an all-round performer."
"I was born into a Peking Opera family. I'm one of the fourth generation of professionals from both my parents' sides. So naturally I have an inclination towards the art form."
After graduation from Tianjin Traditional Opera School, Yuanyuan decided to continue her study at The Academy of Chinese Traditional Opera in Beijing, where she earned a masters degree. Her years of study enriched her life and deepened her appreciation of the ancient art form.
Dong Yuanyuan said, "Back then I was very enthusiastic when watching Peking Opera shows. You know, as a student you need to watch as many shows as possible. One day I saw 'Feng Huan Chao' performed by Mei Baojiu. It was my very first experience of the Mei School. I was totally intoxicated by his beautiful voice and distinguished style."
Mei Baojiu is the heir to Mei Langfang, whose style brings out the grace of female roles. In 1995, Dong Yuanyuan formally acknowledged Mei Baojiu as her teacher, and started her detailed study of the Mei school. After years of training she has grown into an accomplished actress, across an ever-growing repertoire in the Mei style.
Dong Yuanyuan said, "In 2000 I was given an opportunity to join the cast of 'Humpbacked Prime Minister', a new production tailored especially for the new year season."
Yuanyuan played Ge Ge, one of the leads in "Humpbacked Prime Minister". The show played to packed houses at Chang'an Grand Theater every night, with each show winning enthusiastic applause.
Yuanyuan's efforts paid off, as the show brought her the Plum Blossom Prize, China's highest award for stage performances.
Dong Yuanyuan said, "That show broadened my view. As a member of the young generation, our foremost task is to carry on this traditional art. But more than that, we need to take it forward with further innovations. For traditional productions, which capture the essence of generations past, we need only imitate the style. But for new productions you need to create a vivid character, one which can stand the test of time. This is surely the greatest challenge for an actor."
"Humpbacked Prime Minister" was later adapted for the small screen, with Yuanyuan playing the same role. To her great surprise she was nominated for Best Actress at the 6th Golden Eagle Awards, the most prestigious in Chinese TV.
Dong Yuanyuan said, "I was very happy. As a Peking Opera performer I walked the red carpet, and I made a lot of showbiz friends. I've experienced both pain and gain in my career."
Yuanyuan has this to say to the audience, whose support gives her momentum.
Dong Yuanyuan said, "The award was not simply for me. It is recognition for a traditional art form, reflecting the audiences' appreciation of its cultural legacy. So it is for the audience that I feel a special gratitude."