West Kowloon Cultural District

Spat over Cantonese opera theatre’s grand opening latest drama at Hong Kong arts hub

Chinese Artists Association chairwoman Liza Wang hits out after being told body will only be in charge of Xiqu Centre’s pre-opening activities

PUBLISHED : Friday, 09 February, 2018, 1:04pm
UPDATED : Friday, 09 February, 2018, 11:20pm

The representative of Cantonese opera performers hit out at Hong Kong’s arts hub authority on Friday after learning her group would not be in charge of the grand opening of a dedicated theatre for the art form, in the latest row over the troubled Xiqu Centre.

Barwo, or the Chinese Artists Association of Hong Kong, which represents more than 1,000 Cantonese opera performers, said it was informed that it would be in charge of the theatre’s pre-opening, rather than the grand opening in 2019.

Its chairwoman Liza Wang Ming-chun told a Commercial Radio programme: “Around May or June last year, they explained to us that Barwo would be in charge of the grand opening of the centre … however, now that has changed and of course we are disappointed.”

Wang, a local star of Cantonese opera, said Louis Yu Kwok-lit, the performing arts executive director of the West Kowloon Cultural District, where the centre is located, had told the association it would be responsible for a number of traditional opening rituals and performances that would last up to two weeks.

The grand opening performances would be coordinated by Yam Pak Charitable Foundation, another Cantonese opera group that also organises performances.

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Wang said it was not until November that they had indirectly heard from members within the industry of the change and that Yu had not consulted them beforehand.

“Barwo is like a union for the Cantonese opera industry. Just like you would pay respects to the Heung Yee Kuk [an advisory body on rural affairs] if you went into the New Territories, shouldn’t the grand opening be organised by Barwo, which has supported the establishment of the West Kowloon arts hub and the Xiqu Centre from day one, for all these years?” Wang said.

“It’s a matter of respecting the industry and our tradition. You should respect the industry’s opinion and not disregard our feelings.”

However, West Kowloon Cultural District Authority chairman Henry Tang Ying-yen said Wang, who was a member of the authority’s performing arts committee, accepted the arrangement over the grand opening.

The long-awaited 13,800-square-metre Chinese opera venue has been criticised for a number of things, from its design to its organisational supervision, even before the world-class theatre officially opens by the end of this year.

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The association had previously criticised the authority for appointing Alison Friedman, an American professional specialising in promoting Chinese art in and outside mainland China, as director of performing arts. The association had hoped a Hongkonger would get the job.

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Wang said that although the schedule and details for the opening had not been confirmed, her group would do its best to make the pre-opening “as grand as possible”.

Traditionally, pre-opening rituals are aimed at “breaking in” a new theatre or stage. That would be followed by a series of free performances by fairly new actors to engage the audience.

But an association vice-chairman, Sun Kim-long, said they would make sure all veteran professionals would be involved in the opening and would go “all out” for the performances.

Yam Pak Charity Foundation could not be reached for comment.