Hong Kong’s latest performing arts venue is the Xiqu Centre (戲曲中心), located on the eastern side of the West Kowloon Cultural District, a multi-billion dollar project that aims to develop an international-grade arts and culture hub in the city. It is the first major building to open in the District, to be followed by museums and exhibition areas, numerous theatres, concert halls, and other public spaces. With 17 planned venues in total, the WKCD is Hong Kong’s largest and most ambitious arts and cultural development to date.
As the name suggests, the venue is dedicated to showcasing and advancing the art of Xiqu – traditional Chinese opera. A popular form of drama and musical theatre, Xiqu has many forms with roots dating back to early Chinese history. One of the most distinct (and well-known, this being Hong Kong) is Cantonese Opera which originated in Guangdong province. Before widespread formal education became available, the opera taught morals and messages to its audiences in addition to providing light-hearted entertainment. An important part of Cantonese culture and history, the art form has all but disappeared from daily life as old venues were replaced by movie theatres and glitzy shopping malls. (I still remember my grandmother listening to performances on old cassette tapes – one of the few things she took with her when she left Hong Kong). The Xiqu Centre hopes to provide a place to turn the tide by nurturing and promoting the craft to new generations.
The building consists of the thousand-plus seat Grand Theatre, a small intimate Tea House Theatre, various seminar studios and halls, and houses a large open atrium and podium available for Xiqu-related exhibitions and workshops. Eight storeys tall, the main entrance is designed to resemble a set of parted stage curtains, with an outside facade covered in dramatically curved and precision-cut aluminum blades.
While the official grand opening was just a few days ago, the Xiqu Centre was publicly accessible a few weeks prior through a number of free dress rehearsal performances and soft openings. I attended a two of these (one featured an actual fire drill evacuation), and while the highly formal Cantonese was over my head – even the overhead English captions seemed like a bad version of Google Translate – the performances were immensely enjoyable. Judging by the enthusiastic full house attendance, it looks like Chinese Opera has been given a second life in a wonderful new home.