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Keeping a Distance from Life

As mentioned above, Chinese theater has musical dialogues and dance movements. The songs and dances themselves are based on life; but they are not mere reproductions of life. The make-up, costumes, movements and recitations of the performers are affected or pretentious, so as to intensify and beautify ordinary language, daily movements and insipid feelings, and express them in an artistic way. Therefore, Chinese actors and actresses have, for centuries, taken infinite pains over techniques of expression and the functions of recitation, songs, dances (postures) and martial arts. Thanks to their long-term efforts, they have created, summed up and accumulated a series of exaggerated, expressive, standardized and fixed movements. When an actor or actress laughs on the stage, he or she must follow extremely exaggerated, expressive, standardized and fixed procedures. These procedures have been handed down for centuries. (Fig.1 -3)

Why is a frown or a smile in Chinese theater so far from reality? Probably there are many reasons, but one important reason is that Chinese operas were recreational and commercial, and another reason is that theatrical troupes had poor material and economic conditions. In ancient China, operas were often performed in public squares, in the grounds of temples, or on simple stages or platforms in the courtyards of big houses; in rural areas, theaters were usually combined with the markets. When actors and actresses were performing on the stage, they were surrounded by thousands of people, and there was a hubbub of voices, including those of peddlers crying their wares. In such conditions, actors had to adopt exaggerated gestures, speech and movements so as to prevent their performances being drowned by the noise. Stage artists developed the rule of "displaying life by surpassing life". loud, sonorous and melodious voices, the powerful beating of gongs and drums, gorgeous embroidered robes, dazzling facial makeup and thrilling martial arts movements. As a result, they created beautiful scenes pleasing to both the eye and the mind, and captivated people's souls. Moreover, their stylized dances, lively music, stylized facial make-up and poetic scripts made Chinese operas harmonious, well-knit, vivid and attractive.

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