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April 16, 2010

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Top man in woman's role

LI Yugang, who rose to fame in China Central Television's talent show "Star Boulevard" in 2006, is considered one of the most promising nandan (female roles played by male Peking Opera performers) artists in China.

When the female impersonator, dressed in a traditional Chinese gown, performs on stage, audiences immediately forget his real gender and are stunned by the "pretty woman's" captivating charm and tender affection.

On May 29, Li will stage his grand concert "The Flowers in the Mirror, the Moon in the Water" at Shanghai Grand Stage after the show's successful premiere at Sydney Opera House last year.

With impossibly high notes and graceful dance moves, Li will offer his unique interpretation of the beautiful young girl Du Liniang in "The Peony Pavilion," the elegant and talented Concubine Yang in "Drunken Concubine" and Wang Zhaojun, who was sent to the north to appease the tribal chief of a southern Hun tribe in ancient China.

The show will also be a mix of traditional and pop culture, combining traditional opera with folk songs and modern cultural connotations. The dazzling visual and sound effects will present a vivid picture of Chinese classic aesthetics.

The 32-year-old was born in a farming family in Jilin Province in northeastern China. Though he never went to a professional school to learn Peking Opera, his talent and work ethic have enabled him to grasp the essence of the traditional arts.

Li is now a first-class state performer with the China Opera and Dance Drama Theater. He is the only grassroots singer signed to the troupe who hasn't receive any professional academic training.

In the history of Peking Opera, the most accomplished nandan is Mei Lanfang. The allure of nandan art lies in its sexual ambiguity. Men, dressed and made up as women, deliver unique charisma and break the male and female line.

However, with the rising number of female Peking Opera singers, there seems to be no need these days for male performers to take female roles on stage. So nandan art in China has been fading for the past 30 years.

"As a grassroots singer, I'm grateful for what I've achieved, but artistically these's still a big gap between my predecessors and me," Li says. "I also feel my responsibility to revive the nandan tradition which is actually a comprehensive art also covering make-up and costume design."

Later this year the show will tour China's Taiwan, Japan and America. During these performances, Li is expected to collaborate with top-notch foreign artists like Sarah Brightman.


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