[Er’renzhuan] “Er’renzhuan”, or “bengbeng”, is a kind of unique folk opera in Northeast China, and is very popular among the people because it represents the native “fellowship and hospitality of the northeast”.
Formed between late Qing Dynasty and early Ming Dynasty, er’renzhuan is normally considered as a combined form of art of a folk dance (yangge) and ballad of the northeast and a folk art form, known as “lianhualao”, from Hebei province. Basically, er’renzhuan is divided into three kinds, namely, “danchutou” “shuangwanyier” and “lachangxi”, meaning a show of one actor, two actors (er’renzhuan), and more than two actors, respectively. Of them, “shuangwanyier” (er’renzhuan) is the main form.
The residents in northeast are mainly composed of the Manchurian and Mongolian nationalities and the Han Chinese immigrants from such provinces as Shandong and Hebei and so on. The northeasterners are honest and straightforward, living, multiplying and working in this region. That they like er’renzhuan is in part because of their outgoing personalities.
The scripts of er’renzhuan are mainly from dramas, novels, storytellings and ballads as well as other sources about social life, and most of them are about chivalry, love and loyalty.
The actors of er’renzhuan are nicknamed “changchangde” or “changshou” (song singers). They are farmers, so they can work when they are busy, while staging shows when they have time. This is also the reason why this “half-farmer and half-artist” form of art is deeply rooted in life.
In addition to the native and flexible characteristics, its unique attractiveness is also the reason why er’renzhuan is such a kind of fantastic art to tens of millions of local people. As the saying goes, “I would rather give up three meals than a show of er’renzhuan”. In terms of the different performing skills, “Shuogong”, also called “shuokou” (speaking abilities), makes sure what is spoken out or sung out is very natural and easy to understand. “Changgong” (singing abilities) emphasizes on rhythm and melody, and various changes of rhythms and melodies, originally called “nine pitches, eighteen melodies and seventy two harmonies”. “Zuogong” (imitating abilities) puts emphasis on natural and real expressions, which needs actors to lean how to imitate “all that is to show” and ensure “all that is to imitate is almost like the original”. “Wugong” (dancing abilities) is trained through adoption of various gestures and strides used in other folk dancing arts like “yangge”, including “jumping, walking, turning, twisting, crossing, rotating, fanning and shaking”, plus other “stunts” of “playing handkerchiefs” and “playing fans”, etc. All mentioned here, together with those unmentioned, makes er’renzhuan a truly attractive singing-dancing form of folk art deeply rooted in the people’s hearts.
[Jilin Opera] Jilin Opera, or called Ji Opera, originates from “er’renzhuan’, a most popular kind of folk art among the natives in the northeast. Some 200 plays, big, medium or small in scale, have been staged since 1959, of which An Apology by Bao Gong, Silk Thread Seller Yan Qing, and Fates of Three Sisters are better known.
There are different roles in Jilin Opera, including sheng, dan, jing, mo and chou, meaning the male role, the female role, the painted-face role, and the comic role, respectively. Its original keynotes are defined by such tunes mainly based on er’renzhuan as wenkeke, wukeke, hongliuzi sanjieban, kumizi and qiongshengdiao, etc.
The instrumental accompaniments are given mainly through banhu (a Chinese traditional bowed string instrument) and so-na (trumpet) which are normally used in er’renzhuan.
The performing skills are gradually made complete through adoption of the five kinds of stunts in er’renzhuan, and others from other operas. The stunt of handkerchief constitutes one of the long suits in Jilin Opera.
［Northeast Yangge］Yangge, also called “dance big yangge”, is a kind of popular dancing among the northern nationalities. Actually, people’s imitation of work in rice farmland was how the yangge dancing started. But later, it was transformed into a kind of make-up performance organized during nonworking or festival seasons. The northeast yangge is divided into two kinds, namely, “caigaoqiao’, a kind of dance that needs the actor to walk and dance with his or her feet fastened on two wooden legs, and “dibengzi”, a kind of dance given by actors on wide, flat land.
There is no limitation to participants in yangge dancing, old or young, male or female. Dressing in costumes, with fans in hands, dozens or even hundreds of people can organize in line, dancing yangge to their hearts’ content with instrumental accompaniment on streets and lanes or on squares. Usually, yangge dancing is big in scale and various in style. Such auspicious atmosphere often makes the audience intoxicated, and some of them even can not help joining the team. It is really something interesting and attractive.
Sometimes, yangge dancers dress differently, using different tools, or imitating ancient figures. The images they imitate are vivid and interesting, and just like what they were originally.
In recent years, yangge dancing has become a popular form for health fitness in some places. People will gather and dance yangge every morning or evening at such public places as gardens, squares or river banks, etc. They dance to dance away the working pressures. And they dance to dance away the life agonies. Yangge helps build their bodies, and also adds so much fun to their lives.
［Huanglongxi］Huanglongxi is a new invention of opera created in Nong’an county, Jilin province. Nong’an was named so for it was ever known as the Huanlongfu of Liao Dynasty. Originally, there were only three roles in Huanglongxi, namely, xiaosheng, xiaochou and xiaodan, meaning the male role, the female role and the comic role, respectively. But after years of development, another three roles were added one after another. They are daomadan, laosheng and laodan, meaning the female warrior role, bearded male role and elderly female role, respectively. In huanglongxi, tunes are defined mainly by the three roles, sheng, dan and chou, that is, male, female and comic roles. And basically, performance, dressing and costumes are duplicated from Beijing Opera.
Huanglongxi was born in 1959, with the keynote based on the music used in northeast piyingxi (shadow play), and other folk music. It is a new, characteristic, local opera that has extensive public foundation. In December 1958, in line with the Directive of Jilin Provincial Culture Administration on Creation of New Local Operas, the authorities of culture in Nong’an created huanglongxi. And in January 1959, they adapted the large-scale play Fanlihua into a new version. The public shows staged the next year turned out to be great success, and then huanglongxi was officially named.
From early 1980s to middle 1990s, the plays adapted and staged by Nong’an Troupe such as Make Trouble out of Nothing, Linghua Flower in the Wind and Rain, Left My Heart in Huanglongfu and Mrs. Yingge, etc., won 20 awards in such activities as the 2nd China Opera Festival, National Show of Local Operas and the Prague International Stage Design Exhibition, thereby making huanglongxi far more famous ever since then.