Sitting below the stage an audience of grannies and grandfathers were intently watching the Cantonese opera performers. Fanning themselves and tapping their hands and feet in harmony with the rhythm, they hummed as if mimicking the performers in their monologues. Among a sea of white hair stood a 16-year-old girl, Florence Ho Ching-wai, who aspires to one day be up among the opera performers. 'Here the white-haired outnumber the black-haired. Excluding the children who are accompanying their grandparents, I'm probably the only teenager seeing the show,' said Florence, a Form Five graduate from Buddhist Kok Kwong Secondary School and a new student with the Hong Kong Academy for Performing Arts' two-year diploma programme in Cantonese opera. What had persuaded Florence to participate in Cantonese opera studies, she said, were the elegant costumes and an urge to protect culture. 'I feel obliged to preserve an old culture and history. And I really like the performers' costumes, their elegant gestures and walking posture,' she said. 'My friends feel strange knowing that I'll study Cantonese opera. They take me as a 'westernised' person as I play piano and violin, instead of pipa and erhu. 'They think this way because they have little contact with art, let alone Cantonese opera,' added Florence, who likened the opera performances to musicals with an oriental flavour. Urged by her mother to take the usual path to university via Form Six and Seven, Florence did not succumb. Instead she applied to the academy's drama and opera course months before taking the Hong Kong Certificate of Education Examination (HKCEE). 'I'm better off doing arts, as I'm not good at studies,' said Florence, who was not disappointed with gaining nine points on her HKCEE. 'I have been playing drama since Form One. The stage is the right place for me.' After many rounds of interviews, Florence secured her place in opera instead of drama, but she said it did not matter to her, as both were her interests. With an average of 1,000 performances each year in various traditional Chinese festivals, Florence said she was optimistic about her future. 'Doing opera is my dream, not bread and butter at this stage,' she said. 'I see no hurry to take up the main role in a troupe and I wish to get experience by taking a minor role first. I may also be a Cantonese opera tutor in the future.' 'I feel obliged to preserve an old culture and history. And I really like the performers' costumes, their elegant gestures and way of walking '