West Kowloon Cultural District

Hong Kong’s new Chinese opera centre will be run by an American, and local performers aren’t happy

Industry veteran says appointing foreign art director a blow to local performers

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 19 October, 2017, 8:02am
UPDATED : Thursday, 19 October, 2017, 11:35am

Cantonese opera performers in Hong Kong said they were “extremely disappointed” after the job of running the city’s new showcase for the traditional art form went to an American.

A stalwart of the local opera industry said Beijing-based consultant Alison Friedman’s appointment to the post contradicted promises by the arts chief that the West Kowloon Cultural District, where the Xiqu Centre will stand, would nurture local talent.

The Chinese Artists Association of Hong Kong, which represents more than 1,000 Cantonese opera performers, said in a statement that it had expected the job of Chinese opera chief to be separate from posts overseeing other art forms.

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But the position has been bundled in with others, to be held by one person.

That person will be Friedman, whom the West Kowloon Cultural District Authority appointed last Wednesday as director of performing arts, leading its Chinese opera, dance, theatre and music teams.

The new director will oversee productions at the Xiqu Centre, the district’s Chinese opera venue, which is still under construction and is expected to open late next year.

Liza Wang Ming-chun, a long-time chairwoman of the association and a renowned local performer, said the authority had pledged to appoint an independent art director for the Xiqu Centre.

“The management reneged on their promise … We are extremely disappointed,” Wang said.

She said Friedman did not have any experience with xiqu, or Chinese opera, and there were many suitable candidates in Hong Kong.

“I have no doubt of the academic calibre of the artistic director, but xiqu is about artistic attainment,” Wang said in an interview. “The authority has a mentality of putting the arts hub on the international map by hiring foreigners.”

She said the authority’s two previous chief executives as well as the incumbent all being British was evidence of that.

Wang said such appointments contradicted pledges from the authority to boost Hong Kong talent.

“The authority has always emphasised the importance of nurturing local talents, but a local director is not hired,” she said.

Friedman is the founding director at Ping Pong Productions, a Beijing-based consultancy promoting cultural exchanges. She has worked in China for almost two decades.

Having majored in Chinese literature and literary translation at Brown University in the US, she is a fluent Mandarin speaker. She lectures at various universities in China and around the world.

In response to the association’s complaint, the authority said on Wednesday that it was openly recruiting a head of Chinese opera, and that whomever it appointed would be an integral part of the artistic team under Friedman.

“As a further measure, the appointment of artistic advisers [at the Xiqu Centre] is also being finalised and will be announced shortly,” the authority said.

Wang said the authority should clarify the relationship between the head of the Xiqu Centre and Friedman.

“If the head of Xiqu Centre plays an administration role and the artistic director knows not much about xiqu, who should give the development direction?” she asked.

The Post has reached out to Friedman for comment.