At one time, Nuo drama was very popular in every part of China. With social development, however, it faded out in most parts, remaining popular only in southwest China, in areas such as Guizhou, in eastern Yunnan, southern Sichuan and Chongqing, in southwestern Hubei and western Hunan, and in northern Guangxi.
Nuo Dramas vary considerably, from one area to another.
Guizhou Nuo Drama
Guizhou is the center of Nuo Drama in southwestern China, while Dejiang in northeast and Anshun in southwest Guizhou province are centers for Nuo Drama.
In Tunbu around Anshun, Nuo Drama is the primary entertainment activity. Nuo Drama here is a branch of the ancient Military Nuo. Musical instruments include one gong and one drum. The drummer is very important during a performance. A patch of land serves as a stage. As a result, Nuo Drama is also called Dixi, meaning ground drama in Chinese.
Yunnan Nuo Drama
Leopard Nuo Drama in Chuxiong, Yunnan province, differentiates itself by the fact that all dancers are painted with a leopard pattern on their nude bodies.
The ferocious and agile leopard is regarded as the most qualified to drive away devils. Leopards are played by twelve boys about 10 years old with the leopard pattern painted on their backs, hands, feet, and belly in black, white, red, and yellow colors. At the climax of the dance, leopards run after young girls watching the show until the girls take them home where snacks have been prepared. This devil-dispelling activity is performed in the rooms, kitchens and stalls of one family after another; the leopards dispel devils for all the villagers.
Nuo Drama in Other Places
Nuo Drama is popular among many ethnic groups in Hunan where both facial painting and masks are used.
Guichi Nuo Drama from Anhui province, is special because it is performed on a clan basis not by a troupe as in other places.
“Seizing the Yellow Devil” is a Nuo dance drama from Wu’an County in Handan, Hebei Province. The people of Guyi village in Wu’an perform the dance drama during the Lantern Festival (the 15th day of the first lunar month each year).
In addition, Nanpu Nuo Drama from Zhangzhou, Fujian province, and Nanfeng Nuo Drama from Nanfeng, Jiangxi province, are representative of local dramas.
Though much like the Japanese classical drama Noh, not enough importance is attached to Nuo Drama in China. It is still a folk art with a strong religious color. This, on one hand, preserves the authentic flavor of Nuo Drama, but on the other hand, Nuo Drama faces great difficulties in developing successors and in financing. Making Nuo Drama masks provides more income than does performing. Young people are no longer interested in the art; the youngest actors of Nuo Drama in many places are at least 40 years old.
by Xiao Xiao @ InteractChina.com
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