Beijing Opera comes to Silverdale

Traditional instruments such as this are used for practice only, as players are hard to find.

Early morning joggers and dog walkers in Millwater may have been treated to a sample of Beijing Opera recently in their local park.

This is where performer and teacher HaiJu Zhu, of Millwater, practices.

“The vocal training is very intense and you need a big, open space to practice in, as it’s very loud,” HaiJu says. “I don’t want to disturb my neighbours by doing it at home.”

HaiJu has been learning Beijing Opera since she was a little girl but began doing it fulltime six years ago after retiring from her job as a legal prosecutor in China.

She learned her art from many top teachers. It’s a form that consists of singing, dancing and the use of props such as fans and traditional swords.

The Beijing form has only a 200 year history – while other forms of Chinese opera can have as much as 600 years of tradition behind them. The performers tell historical stories, using subtle movements of the face, eyes and hands as well as voice.

Makeup worn by the performers can take two hours to apply.

HaiJu moved to Millwater two years ago from Jiang Su province in China to join her family and currently divides her time between the Coast and China. She has performed in the Auckland Lantern festival and recently began taking on students.

One of the first was Shanshan Ning, who has lived on the Coast for five years and tracked HaiJu down after seeing her sing at the Lantern Festival.

This weekend, HaiJu and her seven students will bring Beijing Opera to Silverdale for the first time, with a public performance called NZ Mei School Beijing Opera at Silverdale School Hall.

Shanshan says the students in particular are doing a lot of preparation, as this is their first public performance. “It’s something unique and we’re proud to bring this part of our culture to the community,” she says.

The performance is on June 2 at Silverdale School Hall, Longmore Lane, Silverdale, from 2pm.