In Gounan Xudi, an ancient village with a history of 700 years located in the northern suburbs of Shantou, people can enjoy Teochew opera every weekend.
Near an ancestral hall, Zhang Yihuang, a famous Teochew opera actress was guiding her students to practice. They toned their leg muscles, did a vocal warm-up, and sang one of the most classical plays of Teochew opera, Reunion through Window Sweeping.
Zhang leaned down and cleaned gently with a broom while telling us the story of the heroine in this melancholy aria as if she would like to sweep her misery out of the "window".
It is a fantastic experience to hear such archaic and elaborate melodies in an ancient village. Daria from Russia loves Chaoshan cuisine and Chaoshan Gongfu tea. She is also very interested in this local opera. On this trip to Shantou, she sought to unveil the charm of Teochew opera.
"Even a housekeeping activity like cleaning the window can become a wonderful performance," she marveled. This was her first impression of Teochew opera.
Zhang told Daria a story of this play, especially how the special finger movements of Teochew opera, "ginger bud finger", were created.
Renowned Teochew opera artist Yao Xuanqiu and notable Peking opera master Mei Lanfang had a close connection to the development of the "ginger bud finger". In the 1950s-1960s, Mei watched the Reunion through Window Sweeping performed by Yao and thought highly of it. Yao took the opportunity to learn the finger technique of Peking opera from Mei as the finger patterns for qingyi and dan (main female roles) in Teochew opera were too simple and just copied the "orchid finger" patterns of Peking opera. Yao wanted to develop more diversified finger movements for highlighting the features of Teochew opera.
Mei demonstrated various finger movements of Peking opera patiently and also encouraged Yao to focus on the features of qingyis beautiful finger patterns in Teochew opera. Combining the "orchid finger" patterns with the traditional finger technique of the local opera, Yao developed the "ginger bud finger" used by female roles in Teochew opera.
The elegant gesture of a typical "orchid finger" movement is performed by the thumb touching the middle finger. For the "ginger bud finger", the thumb presses against the middle finger with the ring finger bent, in a shape of freshly sprouting ginger.
"This is the finger technique performed by guimendan in Teochew opera", Zhang explained, showing us this movement. Guimendan refers to the role of an unmarried young lady. "As a young lady from a wealthy or influential family, she should be graceful and educated. The ginger bud finger can deliver her glamour."
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