West Kowloon Cultural District

Cantonese opera expert to report to American boss of Hong Kong’s West Kowloon hub

Cantonese opera performers expressed concern following the appointment of an Irish-American as head of the city’s showcase centre for the traditional art form

PUBLISHED : Friday, 20 October, 2017, 9:06am
UPDATED : Friday, 20 October, 2017, 5:58pm

A local Chinese candidate has been shortlisted as the head of Hong Kong’s showcase centre for Cantonese opera at the West Kowloon arts hub amid a row over the appointment of an expatriate as director of performing arts.

The new candidate will report to Alison Friedman, the Irish-American whose appointment has been questioned by Cantonese opera performers who prefer home-grown talent to be used.

A source at the West Kowloon Cultural District Authority, which runs the hub, said on Thursday that an advisory panel for the Xiqu Centre had approved the application of “a local Hong Kong Chinese who has been working with various art groups on the administration and coordination of ­Chinese opera, or xiqu, for more than three years”.

The source said a Chinese candidate originally in the running for the director’s job had pulled out, leaving several expatriate applicants among whom Friedman was the most experienced.

“The new head of the Xiqu Centre is no stranger to the ­performers, and will report to Alison,” the source said.

“Barwo is a key industry player at the Xiqu Centre, but it also serves other stakeholders such as the Academy for Performing Arts and some young talent groups. And there are other art forms such as Peking opera and Kun opera.”

Barwo, or the Chinese Artists Association of Hong Kong, which represents more than 1,000 Cantonese opera performers, voiced opposition to Friedman’s appointment on Wednesday, asking why a “100 per cent Chinese art form is governed by a foreigner”.

Barwo chairwoman and local diva Liza Wang Ming-chun ­demanded to know why an ­independent director of Chinese traditional theatre was not ­appointed instead. The fact that the two previous chief executives of the arts hub and the incumbent were British was evidence of the authority’s preference for expatriates, she argued.

Wang added on Friday she was concerned about the future development of the Xiqu Centre if its head were to play an administrative role and report to Friedman.

We should not judge a person’s ability based on her nationality
Tanya Chan, lawmaker

This meant, she said, the authority’s executive director, Louis Yu Kwok-lit, broke his promise of putting an independent director specifically in charge of xiqu, an appointment to be taken up by a local Chinese opera veteran and performer.

In a statement, the Barwo chairwoman claimed that she and many Xiqu Centre advisers repeatedly discussed the independent director appointment in depth.

The Post has reached out to Yu.

Friedman is to supervise Chinese opera, dance, theatre and music. She is the founding director of Ping Pong Productions, a Beijing-based consultancy promoting cultural exchanges.

Tanya Chan, who sits on a Legislative Council panel monitoring the project, said: “We should not judge a person’s ability based on her nationality. Even though she doesn’t know xiqu now, it doesn’t mean she can’t learn.”