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Theatre of China

Chinese Contemporary Dance Aesthetics – Chinese Dance Symposium 2013 中國現代舞蹈研討會


Chinese Contemporary Dance Aesthetics – Chinese Dance Symposium, Presented by Little Pear Garden Collective, Canada. 加拿大小梨園舉辦 中國現代舞蹈研討會. In association with Harbourfront Centre’s World Stage, March 23 & 24, 2013.

A faded sign advertising Beijing opera.

Theatre of China has a long and complex history. Today it is often called Chinese operaalthough this normally refers specifically to the more well-known forms such as Beijing Opera and Cantonese Opera, there have been many other forms of theatre in China.

Classical Chinese theatre

There are references to theatrical entertainments in China as early as the Shang Dynasty; they often involved happiness, mimes, and acrobatic displays.

The Tang Dynasty is sometimes known as “The Age of 1000 Entertainments.”  During this era, Ming Huang formed an acting school known as The Pear Garden to produce a form of drama that was primarily musical. That is why actors are commonly called “Children of the Pear Garden.”

Shadow play

During the Dynasty of Empress Ling, shadow puppetry first emerged as a recognized form of theatre in China. There were two distinct forms of shadow puppetry, Pekingese (northern) and Cantonese (southern). The two styles were differentiated by the method of making the puppets and the positioning of the rods on the puppets, as opposed to the type of play performed by the puppets. Both styles generally performed plays depicting great adventure and fantasy, rarely was this very stylized form of theatre used for political propaganda. Cantonese shadow puppets were the larger of the two. They were built using thick leather which created more substantial shadows. Symbolic color was also very prevalent; a black face represented honesty, a red one bravery. The rods used to control Cantonese puppets were attached perpendicular to the puppets’ heads. Thus, they were not seen by the audience when the shadow was created. Pekingese puppets were more delicate and smaller. They were created out of thin, translucent leather (usually taken from the belly of a donkey).They were painted with vibrant paints, thus they cast a very colorful shadow. The thin rods which controlled their movements were attached to a leather collar at the neck of the puppet. The rods ran parallel to the bodies of the puppet then turned at a ninety degree angle to connect to the neck. While these rods were visible when the shadow was cast, they laid outside the shadow of the puppet; thus they did not interfere with the appearance of the figure. The rods attached at the necks to facilitate the use of multiple heads with one body. When the heads were not being used, they were stored in a muslin book or fabric lined box. The heads were always removed at night. This was in keeping with the old superstition that if left intact, the puppets would come to life at night. Some puppeteers went so far as to store the heads in one book and the bodies in another, to further reduce the possibility of reanimating puppets. Shadow puppetry is said to have reached its highest point of artistic development in the eleventh century before becoming a tool of the government.

Red Gate: Pauline Benton and Chinese Shadow Theatre in the United States: Pauline Benton revolutionized American puppetry in the 1930s with performances of the Red Gate Players: the first professional company to perform Chinese shadow theatre in North America. Benton collected traditional shadow figures in Beijing, and also commissioned modern figures depicting contemporary lifestyles in urban China. These rare shadow figures, now owned by Chinese Theatre Works – directed by Kuang-Yu Fong and Stephen Kaplin, are available for exhibit. Curated by Kaplin, the exhibit includes stages and scenic equipment and material from the Benton archives, connecting her work to the historical contexts of ancient Chinese shadow theatre and the 20th Century puppet revival in the United States. The exhibit is currently on loan to the Ballard Institute and Museum of Puppetry at the University of Connecticut.

Chinese opera

In the Song Dynasty, there were many popular plays involving acrobatics and music. These developed in the Yuan Dynasty into a more sophisticated form known as zaju, with a four or five act structure. Yuan drama spread across China and diversified into numerous regional forms, the best known of which is Beijing Opera, which is still popular today.


Xiangsheng is a certain traditional Chinese comedic performance in the forms of monologue or dialogue.

TCL Chinese Theatre – Front entrance facing Hollywood Blvd.

TCL Chinese Theatre (formerly Grauman’s Chinese Theatre, and Mann’s Chinese Theatre) is a movie theater on the historic Hollywood Walk of Fame at 6925 Hollywood Boulevard in Hollywood, California. The theatre was renamed in January 2013 when the TCL Corporation, a Chinese electronics company purchased the naming rights for over $5 million.

The original Chinese Theatre was commissioned following the success of the nearby Grauman’s Egyptian Theatre which opened in 1922. Built over 18 months, from January 1926 by a partnership headed by Sid Grauman, the theater opened May 18, 1927, with the premiere of Cecil B. DeMille‘s film The King of Kings.   It has since been home to many premieres, including the 1977 launch of George Lucas‘s Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope, as well as birthday parties, corporate junkets and three Academy Awards ceremonies. Among the theater’s most distinctive features are the concrete blocks set in the forecourt, which bear the signatures, footprints, and handprints of popular motion picture personalities from the 1920s to the present day.


After his success with the Egyptian Theatre, Sid Grauman turned to Charles E. Toberman to secure a long term lease on property at 6915 Hollywood Blvd. Toberman contracted the architectural firm of Meyer & Holler (who had also designed the Egyptian) to design a “palace type theatre” of Chinese design. Grauman’s Chinese Theatre was financed by Grauman, who owned a one-third interest, and his partners: Mary PickfordDouglas Fairbanks, and Howard Schenck.   The principal architect of the Chinese Theatre was Raymond M. Kennedy, of Meyer and Holler.

During construction, Grauman hired Jean Klossner to formulate an extremely hard concrete for the forecourt of the theatre. Klossner later became known as “Mr. Footprint”, performing the footprint ceremonies from 1927 through 1957.

There are many stories regarding the origins of the footprints. The theater’s official account in its books and souvenir programs credit Norma Talmadge as having inspired the tradition when she accidentally stepped into the wet concrete. However, in a short interview during the September 13, 1937, Lux Radio Theatre broadcast of a radio adaptation of A Star Is Born Grauman related another version of how he got the idea to put hand and footprints in the concrete. He said it was: “pure accident. I walked right into it. While we were building the theatre, I accidentally happened to step in some soft concrete. And there it was. So, I went to Mary Pickford immediately. Mary put her foot into it.” Still another account by construction foreman at the time, Jean Klossner, recounts that Klossner autographed his work next to the right-hand poster kiosk and that he and Grauman developed the idea then and there. His autograph and hand-print, dated 1927, remain today. The theater’s third founding partner, Douglas Fairbanks, was the second celebrity, after Talmadge, to be immortalized in the concrete.

In 1929 Sid Grauman decided it was time to retire and sold his share to William Fox‘s Fox Theatres chain,however just a few months latter Sid was talked out of retirement, by none other than Howard Hughes. Howard wanted Sid to produce the world premiere of his aviation epic Hells Angels,that would also feature one of Graumans famous theatrical prolouges before the film. Sid stayed on as the theater’s Managing Director for the entire run of Hells Angels, retiring once again after its run finished. Unsatisfied with retirement Sid returned to the theatre as Managing Director on Christmas Day 1931, a position he held at the theatre until his death in 1950. One of the highlights of the theatre has always been its granduer and decore and it was in the 1950s that John Tartaglia (also see artist of Saint Sophia (Los Angeles) became the Head Interior Decorator of Grauman’s Chinese Theatre as well as the chain of theatres, then owned by Fox West Coast Theatres, in 1952. He would later carry on the work of Jean Klossner, by recommendation of J. Walter Bantau, for the Hollywood Footprint Ceremonies. John performed his first ceremony as a Master Mason for Jean Simmons in 1953, for the first premiere in Cinemascope of “The Robe”. Although Jean’s replacement was initially thought to be a temporary job for John Tartaglia, his dedication to the job would last as a 35-year career in which he last performed as the Master Mason/Cement Artist in honor of Eddie Murphy in May 1987 – thereby leaving behind one of the greatest legacies in Hollywood.

Interior of the Chinese Theatre.

The theater as seen from the street on an ordinary day

The Chinese Theatre was declared a historic and cultural landmark in 1968, and has undergone various restoration projects in the years since then. In 1973 it was purchased by Ted Mann, owner of the Mann Theatres chain, and husband of actress Rhonda Fleming. From then until 2001 it was known as Mann’s Chinese Theatre. In the wake of Mann’s bankruptcy, the theatre, along with the other Mann properties, were sold in 2000 to a partnership of Warner Bros. and Paramount Pictures, who also acquired the Mann brand name.   In 2000, an architectural firm that worked for Mann Theatres, Behr Browers Architects prepared a restoration and modernization program for the building. The program included a seismic upgrade, new state of the art sound and projection, new vending kiosks and exterior signage and the addition of a larger concession area under the balcony. The program was finally implemented in 2002 and the original name was restored to the cinema palace. As a part of the upgrade Behr Browers Architects also designed a new Chinese Themed six-plex in the attached Hollywood and Highland mall that continued to operate under the name Mann’s Chinese 6 Theatre.

In 2008, the land the theatre sits on was sold to the CIM Group for an undisclosed price. Mann Theatres continues to have a long-term lease on the venue for movie premieres and will continue to operate it as a film house. The land was sold to CIM by the Damon Runyon Cancer Research Foundation of New York and Barlow Respiratory Hospital of Los Angeles. CIM Group also owns the Hollywood and Highland retail mall next door to the Chinese Theatre, as well as numerous other residential and commercial properties in Hollywood.   On May 27, 2011 both Grauman’s Chinese and the adjacent Mann Chinese 6 were purchased by nightclub owner/producer Elie Samaha and producer Donald Kushner as Chinese Theatres, LLC.

The exterior of the theater is meant to resemble a giant, red Chinese pagoda. The architecture features a huge Chinese dragon across the front, two Authentic Chinese Ming Heavens dogs guard the main entrance, and the silhouettes of tiny dragons up and down the sides of the copper roof. To the dismay of many fans of historic architecture, the free-standing ticket booth was removed (which was not original to the theatre, but rather installed in the 1930s), along with the left and right neon marquees—but their absence brings the theatre back closer to its original state. The auditorium has recently been completely restored along with much of the exterior, however, the wear and tear on the physical structure over the years has caused some of the external décor to be removed, rather than repaired.

In 1944, 1945, and 1946 the Academy Awards ceremonies were held at the Chinese Theatre; they are now held at the adjacent Dolby Theatre formerly known as the Kodak Theatre.

Grauman’s Chinese Theatre continues to serve the public as a first-run movie theater. Many Hollywood films have had their premieres at the Chinese Theatre throughout its history. Today its premieres are attended by celebrities and large throngs of fans as they have been since 1927.

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