Meet in Beijing Arts Festival unveils programs

Among the capital's largest cultural gigs, Meet in Beijing Arts Festival, has unveiled its 2016 program, comprising more than 100 theater performances and outdoor shows as well as two major exhibitions showing across Beijing from April 25 to May 30.

Now in its 16th year, the festival will bring together nearly 400 Chinese artists and more than 400 international artists from 25 countries, including the United Kingdom, Spain and France.

Canada will be the guest country of honor at this year's festival, organizing officials told media last week.

Picking a main guest country each year has been the festival's tradition since it started.

This year, the opening show, titled Spring in China and Canada, will be held on April 25 at the National Center for the Performing Arts. It will feature five Canadian arts and cultural groups, including the Ottawa Bach Choir, the Ensemble Caprice Baroque Orchestra and a troupe from Vancouver's renowned dance school, the Goh Ballet Academy.

Chinese conductor Zhang Guoyong will lead the Qingdao Symphony Orchestra and work with the Montreal-based Buzz Brass Quintet. Canadian soprano Katherine Whyte will also join in the show, performing an excerpt from the classic Chinese opera, The White Haired Girl.

Mark Rowswell, a well-known Canadian scholar and TV host, who is better known as Dashan among Chinese audiences, was named the image ambassador for the guest of honor event.

Rowswell, 50, who is widely known for his mastery in spoken Chinese and performing the traditional Chinese folk art, xiangsheng, or crosstalk, will do a standup comedy show at Tianqiao Performing Arts Center on April 24.

For the past three years, he has been preparing for the show and has worked with Chinese standup performers at many venues in Beijing.

"I have been learning xiangsheng, the Chinese comedic tradition, for decades. Now, I want to make people laugh in a whole new way by using my experiences in China and mixing it up with the Western standup tradition," says Rowswell.

Besides Canadian artists, troupes and artists from other countries will also share the stage at the festival.

Other highlights of the festival include performances by five-time Grammy winner, The Swingles, a London-based group, which has been performing a cappella for more than half a century, Spanish pianist Jose Menor and Caribbean-themed festivals on photography, music, movies and food.

Speaking about the festival, Zhang Yu, president of the China Arts and Entertainment Group, the event organizer, says: "In the last five years, the Meet in Beijing Arts Festival has developed into an international event catering to people of all ages. We have presented more than 30,000 artists and 1,000 troupes from 115 countries and regions to more than 4 million Chinese."

Zhang says the goal of the festival is to present world culture to Chinese audiences as well as to show Chinese art to the world.

The China Arts and Entertainment Group, which was founded in 1957, is among the country's first performing arts groups to engage in cultural-exchange programs.

Among the other programs at the festival, the National Ballet of China will present Raise the Red Lantern, on April 30 at the NCPA. The show, which has renowned Chinese film director Zhang Yimou as its artistic director and musician Chen Qigang as its composer, was premiered 15 years ago, and combines Peking Opera and ballet.

Feng Ying, the director of the National Ballet of China, says the work is significant when it comes to the promotion and development of Chinese ballet in terms of its visual and aesthetic presentations.

The National Ballet of China will also present its latest production, The Crane Whisperer, at the festival. It features principal and prima ballerina Ma Xiaodong and Zhang Jian.

To mark the conclusion of last year's festival, famous Peking Opera performer Zhang Huoding, a master of the Cheng School, which is one of the four top schools for dan (female) roles in Peking Opera, presented two sold-out shows of classic Peking Opera pieces, Reunion in the Dream and The Jewelry Pouch.

Last September, she also made her debut at the Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts in New York City.

This year too, Zhang has been invited to bring the curtains down on the festival by performing another classic Peking Opera piece, The Legend of the White Snake, by working with well-known performers Ye Shaolan, Song Xiaochuan, Zhang Yao and Jin Xiquan.

For those interested in music, Chinese folk singer Gong Linna will hold concerts from May 20-22. The shows are her latest projects with her husband, German composer Robert Zollitsch. The couple are known for their contemporary experiments with traditional Chinese instruments and melodies.

Audiences will also get to see two theater productions from the Chinese mainland and Taiwan. They are An Enemy of the People by Lin Zhaohua from Beijing People's Art Theater and Waiting for Godot by Taiwan's Wu Hsing-kuo, both interpreting Western classics from their own angles.

Free workshops and masterclasses on ballet, piano and drama will also be held across the city to cater to young children and students during the festival.

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