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Beijing Opera Costumes

Listed under Original Gifts in Shanghai, China.

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The incredible exhibition of talent and ravishing visuals that is the Beijing Opera has been in existence since the late 1700s, when Chinese royalty, particularly during the Qing Dynasty, would employ highly skilled theatrical performers to entertain them with musical, dramatic and acrobatic exhibitions.

The performances were highly disciplined and accurate; the players had to reach very high standards in acrobatics, combat, vocals, pantomime and gesturing, and each member of a troupe would have been able to present a range of highly stylised, symbolic characters as part of a precisely choreographed piece of theatre.

Beauty and meaning were both of the utmost importance in all aspects of the Beijing Opera, and sets were often simplistic, so that the arrangement of the props and actors could always be symbolic and compositionally beautiful at any given moment. Movement was never presented erratically but always in slow, serene curves and this, coupled with the lack of props, meant that the costumes had to attract attention and impart information to the audience as to each character's social status and personality.

Robes worn by the characters would vary in style and colour depending on the rank of the character, for example children and the elderly would wear simple white robes, powerful characters would wear purple, emperors yellow and brave or honourable characters would wear red. The costumes were artistic masterpieces in themselves, designed to work with matching head dresses and elaborate facial makeup so that in effect, the entire human being would disappear, leaving only a stylised instrument of artistic interpretation.

The tradition has been kept alive and can still be seen today in Tianjin, Beijing and Shanghai, where the minutely detailed, embroidered costumes are still custom-made.

Available online here.

Written by  larapiegeler.

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