Chinese opera

Stop the Horse (挡马)

Date: January 2, 2010
Location: Changan Theater, Beijing.

Background. Set in the Northern Song Dynasty (960-1127 AD), “Stop the Horse” retells the story of Yang (杨八姐), who disguises herself as a young man and penetrates into enemy territory (Liao Empire) to gather military intelligence. On her return, she chances upon Jiao Guangpu (焦光普), a seemingly shoddy hotel owner who salivates over one of Yang’s possessions — an entry permit to the Song Empire. The two would then fight for it before the two reconcile through verbal probing: Jiao realizes that Yang, the spy, is more than just a cross-border merchant, while Yang realizes that Jiao is actually a former general of the Song Empire who was once captured by the Liaos, has since managed to escape, but had difficulty returning to Song because he changed his name (while on the run) and lost all his entry papers. After the reconciliation, the two make their way back to the Song Empire. “Stopping the Horse” refers to the initial chance encounter between Yang and Jiao.

Performance. “Stop the Horse” is a martial arts-heavy “operetta” between Yang and Jiao, played respectively by two veteran performers from the Beijing Opera Troupe: Wang Xiaoli (王晓丽) and Ye Jiangxiang (叶江翔), with Wang being a student of a prim lineage of Beijing opera masters: Xie Ruiqing (谢锐青), and Wang Yaoqing (王瑶卿). Using an open stage, the two engage in nearly fifteen minutes of non-stop, jaw-dropping martial arts combat. Two stage props, a table and a chair, are used not only to depict Jiang’s hotel but as, before the two characters finally reconcile, improvised shields for Jiao while Yang’s sword aggressively pursues. To be sure, this “operetta”, being less than half an hour long, is scheduled as a filler to open the evening’s main performance: River Lookout. Nevertheless, the martial arts are impressive, bringing much-needed energy to an audience that seems still recovering from the party on New Year’s Eve.

Stop the Horse.