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Lyrics: traditional / Du Yun
Role 1 – the woman who acts as the old man: Wang Ying (Laosheng – old man role style )
Role 2 – the same woman who acts as the young woman: Zhang Tingfang (Xiaodan – young woman role style)
Tian Min, costumes
Wang Yili, makeup

It is said that in China, there are more than 300 regional opera styles: the more well-known Peking Opera is one of them, and so is the Diaoqiang Opera, featured in this piece. At the end of summer 2016, I brought a team of a researcher, scholar, and filmmaker with me to Xinchang, a locale south of Zhejiang Province. Diaoqiang is one of the oldest styles from the Ming Dynasty, around 1330 CE.

The arias you are hearing in the piece are based on two of the oldest arias, from TieGuanTu and Mulian Jiumu.

In traditional operas, the performers are cast into their roles from an early age. Our lead performer, Wang Ying, for example, was trained only as an old man at the age of 17. She has to learn to sing, act, walk, kneel, and personify the old man in her daily meticulous training at the opera troupe academy.

As a creator, I often wonder about our projected role in our society and, furthermore, our gender roles presented in literature and theatrical works. So I experimented with giving her back to her female identity at the end. In today’s world, our gender becomes more fluid and laden with complex layers. Who says a strong woman with a broader shoulder and a deeper voice cannot be cast as a woman? The problem? The problem is we need to create new works for these traditional performers. 

Based on the traditional text, I rewrote the lyrics to reflect this experimentation. The lyrics are about a sense of despair and finding one’s own identity.

This is part of my initiative FutureTradition: Revamping Disappearing Folk Arts and Regional Operas in China, leading a team of documentary filmmakers, visual artists, researchers, and playwrights with local regional folk opera troupes, regional theater artists, and scholars to make new works integrating the traditional practices and languages with a new narrative framework. This is also an effort to engage local communities with the power of their own dialects, examining the migrating languages.

— Du Yun