The video site Bilibili presents a New Year gala that appeals to younger viewers, Chen Nan reports.
Many people just wanted to say goodbye to 2020 because of the COVID-19 pandemic. And many celebrated New Year's Eve by watching galas online or on TV from the comfort of their homes.
On Dec 31, Chinese streaming platform Bilibili broadcast its 4.5-hour gala, featuring a star-studded cast that included pianist Lang Lang, rock singer-songwriter Cui Jian and rock band Mayday. The gala was viewed 120 million times within 48 hours.
Featuring programs from Beijing, Wuhan, Hong Kong and Taipei, the gala, titled The Most Beautiful Night of 2020, had a "rebirth" theme, in a bid to inspire people after the most challenging year of the 21st century to move forward into the future and to give them support and encouragement.
The countdown to the new year was livestreamed from Wuhan, Hubei province, featuring Yangtze River cruise ship horns and a light show.
A nine-minute performance led by Peking Opera artist Qiu Jirong received warm feedback from fans because it gave the traditional art form a contemporary twist.
The performance, titled Jing Hong (The Elegance of Traditional Opera), was set in Qiu's dreams, where he combined contemporary dance and classic pieces from six Chinese art forms: Peking Opera, Kunqu Opera, Qinqiang Opera, Pingju Opera, Chuanju Opera and Hebei Bangzi.
Qiu walked and danced, and interacted with performers playing the classic pieces. Audiences enjoyed the power and beauty of the traditional Chinese art forms.
His dream ended with the classic Peking Opera piece, Zha Mei An (The Execution of Chen Shimei). An original soundtrack from the 1964 Peking Opera movie Qin Xianglian featured in the last part of Qiu's performance. Qiu danced to the song by his grandfather, Qiu Shengrong (1915-71), who died before Qiu Jirong was born.
Qiu Shengrong was one of the best-known Peking Opera artists and developed a new performance style, known as the "Qiu school".
"When I heard my grandfather's voice, I felt like I had traveled back to his heyday and had a conversation with him," says Qiu Jirong, whose father, Qiu Shaorong, was also a celebrated Peking Opera performer.
The performance reached a climax with Qiu Jirong sitting in front of a desk, painting his face with Peking Opera makeup. It impressed many fans.
"I respect my family's artistic tradition very much. So, my hand was shaking when I picked up the brush to paint my face. I was emotional," he says.
Qiu Jirong started learning Peking Opera skills when he was 9 years old. He graduated from the National Academy of Chinese Theater Arts and later became a Peking Opera actor. Despite his family's Peking Opera background, he has also tried to adapt to modern art forms.
He learned contemporary dance and has performed in crossover projects, such as the dance production Under Siege by dancer-choreographer Yang Liping and 2047 Apologue, a concept stage show by renowned filmmaker Zhang Yimou.
"I have absorbed various influences from different art forms, which has broadened my vision as an artist and enabled me to look at Peking Opera from a fresh perspective," says Qiu Jirong.
Unlike his previous crossover performances, which he presented solo, Jing Hong was his first time working with artists of other traditional Chinese operas.
"There are some similarities among these traditional art forms, but we showcased the essence of each of them," says Qiu Jirong.
Many viewers commented online while watching the show, saying that they were moved by the performance and wanted to know more about the traditional operas.
"They're intrigued by traditional Chinese operas, as long as we let them see the beauty of the old art in a creative way," Qiu Jirong says.
Yang Liang, the curator of Bilibili's 2021 New Year's Eve gala, says that unlike some other year-end shows by Chinese TV stations that feature spectacles and celebrities, Bilibili has been positioning itself as an alternative platform tailored for China's Generation Z－those born between 1990 and 2009.
Founded in 2009, Bilibili started as a small interest-based online community for China's anime fans to share videos. The company has more than 190 million monthly active users and became the first Chinese streaming site to host a year-end gala on Dec 31, 2019.
"The pressure from wanting to continue the success of the first gala was overwhelming, and we tried to make it even better the second year," says Yang Liang.
"The site is home to young Chinese, who grew up with such cultural influences as animation, games, films and TV shows. We want to create a different gala tailored to their tastes."
A diversity of performances are featured in the gala, such as symphony orchestras, Chinese folk music and hip-hop.
The opening act was inspired by the hit game Cyberpunk 2077 and featured parkour on an augmented reality-based stage, accompanied by a symphony orchestra conducted by Zhao Zhao, who also directed the gala's music.
Along with the orchestra, acclaimed pianist Lang Lang, who has over 910,000 fans on Bilibili, opened the performance with songwriter Brian Tyler's Marvel Studios Fanfare, which is the music that opens nearly every Marvel movie.