Ever wondered what goes on behind the scenes of traditional Chinese opera? Well ponder no longer because a stunning new photography exhibition is raising the curtain on the mysteries of the theatre. Backstage Scenery is the latest project of Hong Kong based photographer, Irene Flanhardt, whose previous works, The Charm of Tai O and Following Trams, pay homage to some of Hong Kong’s most loved cultural icons.
The new exhibition follows the same path, this time capturing life behind the stage of four operas performed in Tai O throughout 2016. Flanhardt paid several visits to the temporarily built backstage area, taking photos of the three troupes as they prepared for the show. From decadent costumes and intricate face makeup, to pre-performance nerves and preparation – all in sweltering temperatures – the entrancing series of images convey all the drama.
According to Flanhardt, backstage was a fascinating place to be – full of life and energy. While male and female leads, as well as other performers, were busy in their cubicles preparing for the show with the help of their assistants, the long and narrow corridor was full of people simply minding their own business.
She recalls one day of shooting when the temperature rose to 35°C and performers, dressed in several layers of costume, were perspiring profusely as the show went on. She tells us the opera troupes put on heavy make-up, headgear, accessories, and hair-pieces using glue, and ran two shows a day which was immensely challenging in the heat. Some sat in a corner reserving their strength, some stood up mumbling a few lines and lyrics, and some held prop-weapons before going on stage to a full-house.
“The saying ‘ten years of work for every minute on stage’ applies to Chinese opera performers,” Flanhardt tells Localiiz. “A good show requires continuous hard work over a long period of time. This exhibition pays tribute to them for their significant contribution to this traditional form of art.”
Catch Backstage Scenery, which runs at 1/F, Block B, Tai O Garden, Shek Tsai Po Street, Tai O Fishing Village, Lantau Island until December 18.