監製：Lee Tze Leung Ricky
Theatrical Performances to Give Thanks to the Deities
Every time it approaches 13 February in the Chinese calendar, villagers of Kau Sai Chau at East Sea in Sai Kung return to their home village to help organise and celebrate the Hung Shing Festival, whether or not they are scattered all around Hong Kong or live overseas. One of the highlights is a series of traditional Chinese theatrical performances (shengongxi) that replaces edible offerings with xiqu, with the aims of giving thanks to gods for their blessings, as well as entertaining deities, ghosts and humans.
In addition to Cantonese Opera, local shengongxi also includes Chiu Chow Opera and Hoklo Opera, which are also known as “Baizi Opera”. According to an ancient monument in Tai O’s Kwan Tai Temple, shengongxi in Hong Kong can be traced back to the second year of Xianfeng’s reign (1852) of the Qing Dynasty.
A major characteristic of shengongxi is the building of bamboo theatres. This unparalleled craftsmanship has recently been inscribed in the Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Hong Kong by the government. Among the numerous bamboo theatres for shengongxi in the city, the one built for Tin Hau Festival on Po Toi Island is exceptionally extraordinary. Situated on a cliff, this theatre demonstrates phenomenal craftsmanship that rivals the Creator’s work.
In Cantonese Opera’s shengongxi, there are specific requirements in terms of the stage’s location and room arrangement in the backstage. For instance, the stage should face exactly the front of the temple as long as possible, and the live orchestra is to sit on the right of the stage. In the backstage, the space in the middle is divided into six private dressing rooms for actors in the six leading roles, while the area next to them is used by other actors. As for the passageway between the six dressing rooms and the frontstage, the left side is the “costume area” for placing costume trunks, whereas the right side is the “miscellaneous area” for storing props.
Apart from the afternoon and evening performances of shengongxi, there were also all-night shows in the past. Rumour has it that these shows are for deities and ghosts, but in those days, they also served as a time-filler for audiences who stayed the night due to inconvenient transportation in rural areas. Kau Sai Chau’s Hung Shing Festival is now one of the few occasions where these all-night shows are staged in Hong Kong; however, it only comprises a solo performance without accompaniment, which can be regarded as merely a symbol of the significance of preserving traditions.
Producer: Leslie Ng
Every series of shengongxi in Cantonese Opera features set pieces, common examples of which include Eight Immortals Bestowing Longevity, Blessings for Promotion, and Fairy Delivers Her Son to his Mortal Father. Retaining the musical structures, tunes, language and customs of Cantonese Opera in the early years, set pieces are regarded as the art form’s living history.
The storyline of Grand Birthday Celebration at Mount Heung Fa revolves around Avalokitesvara (the Goddess of Mercy) and can be traced back to the Ming Dynasty. This opera is truly a classic set piece, with records showing that the piece was performed in Hong Kong in as early as 1900. Every year on the birthday of the patron god for Cantonese Opera, a large number of artists gather to perform this piece to celebrate the occasion.
In the “weaving” scene featuring five martial actors, there are 41 stylised moves described in the ancient libretto, including “Candles on the Belly”, “Facing the River and Looking at the Sea”, “Throwing Logs of Wood”, “Paddling the Dragon Boat”, and “The Boy Worshipping Avalokitesvara”, which all have extraordinary names and various moves. Nevertheless, as artists of the previous generations passed away one by one, the new generations often have only heard about but never seen these moves with incomplete information. These age-old traditions must be saved without delay.
Witnessing the gradual loss of traditional set pieces, Cantonese Opera artists in Hong Kong felt obligated to preserve and pass on these traditions. As such, they came together and hoped to re-stage the full version of Grand Birthday Celebration at Mount Heung Fa in the festive occasion celebrating the 20th Anniversary of Hong Kong’s return to China.
In order to make this happen, the city’s Cantonese Opera artists put thoughts into action. Not only did they do preparation here in Hong Kong, but they also travelled north together to Guangzhou, where they wished to retrieve lost information about the “weaving” part from local senior artists.
On 30 June 2017, three generations of Cantonese Opera artists in Hong Kong joined hands with five martial actors from Guangzhou to present Enlightenment of the Goddess of Mercy and Grand Birthday Celebration at Mount Heung Fa again for the first time in half a century. This was a performance with profound historical significance. More importantly, the whole performance was well-recorded for the reference of future generations of artists, thereby achieving cultural succession.
Producer: Leslie Ng