Beijing Opera at SOU

Chinese New Year celebrations in the Rogue Valley will kick off in Ashland with an event featuring a star of the Beijing Opera.

Ghaffar Pourazar, the only Western member of the famed opera's company, will give a talk and demonstration titled "Beijing Opera Demystified" at 7:30 p.m. Saturday, Jan. 22, at Southern Oregon University. Admission is free.

The program is sponsored by the Southern Oregon Chinese Cultural Association and co-sponsored by SOU's Department of Performing Arts and St. Mary's School in Medford.

Pourazar, head of the nonprofit International Center for Beijing Opera, says he will demonstrate some of the basic techniques of Beijing Opera: characters, movements, voice, music, face-painting and history.

SOCCA spokesman Joey Ngan says Chinese opera has its own syntax, much of which would be known to opera-goers, and which Pourazar will explain.

"When he moves the arm a certain way, when he has the staff and all those flags, he's riding a horse. When he slaps his side, he's dismounting. When he's tumbling, it's like he's fighting a war."

On the Chinese calendar, 2011 will welcome in the Year of the Rabbit. A spokesman said SOCCA will announce other events planned for the middle of February (visit

Pourazar is a British animator turned Beijing Opera performer/producer. He is of Iranian-Azerbaijani ancestry.

He once saw a Beijing Opera performance in London and was so taken with it that he moved to China and studied with the company, graduating from The Beijing Opera school and the Chinese National Academy after 10 years of training. His studies included classical roles, styles, movements, face-painting, singing and martial performances with old masters.

Since then, he's been fighting to preserve and promote this art form all over the world. He is the first non-Chinese to win an award for performing with the opera, an occurrence he says raised a few eyebrows.

"Even ... the people who normally resist this sort of change are starting to look at it," he says in a clip posted on YouTube.

In 2009, Pourazar was honored by the Chinese government for his contributions to international cultural exchange. He has given lectures at universities around the world, and he and his troupe often entertain visiting heads of the state.

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