When most people think of opera, they likely picture a bombastic tale of love sung by an Italian tenor teaming with a proverbial “fat lady” who boasts an explosive voice. This Sunday, the Rom Shing Hakka Opera Troupe will offer culture lovers a distinctly different style of the art form — with elaborate martial arts and acrobatics— when its 70 members make their American debut performing “The Journey of the Monkey King” at the Pasadena Civic Auditorium.
The Taiwan-based troupe will be the climactic act of the “Spreading Love Fighting Cancer Charity Concert,” benefitting both the Dr. Susan Love Research Foundation’s work, and the John Wayne Cancer Foundation. Despite their size, they will make up less than half of the 150 performers packing the stage throughout the evening, as the 25-member Lei Dance Theatre also flies in from Taiwan to perform alongside the Irvine-based, 20-member Sun Musical Concert Choir and a team of musicians.
At the center of all the onstage action is author-TV personality Kailin Gow, an American-born daughter of Taiwanese immigrants. She has sold more than five million books worldwide, and hosted several TV shows including, “Kailin Gow’s Go Girl Travel, Food and Lost History” on Amazon Prime.
Gow will host, narrate and serve as program director of the evening, which was organized by James Liang, president of the Taiwanese Hakka Association of America. Gow admires the Rom Shing troupe’s focus on traditional tea-picking opera and dancing because she will be releasing her own guide to teas, “The Perfect Cup: TEA,” on Sunday as well.
“It is a unique and special treat to attend a performance of an ancient lost art form, revived and brought back to life, from the only troupe still performing it in Taiwan,” says Gow, who will primarily narrate the show in English, in addition to Mandarin. “Rom Shing won the Golden Melody Award, which is equivalent to the Grammys in Taiwan, so they’re highly esteemed there. They chose this as a global story that’s known around the world, and which is relevant to all ages.”
The Rom Shing troupe has been performing for four generations, focusing on the tradition of Hakka opera— otherwise known as “tea-picking opera,” which combines dance, martial arts, acrobatics and singing, along with strong musical drum beats and flutes. The tea farmers in the mountains of China’s Guangdong province used their songs as a means of communicating across great distances.
“Journey” became one of the best-loved tales in Chinese literature and opera for its depiction of the ever-raging battle between good and evil.
Earlier, the Hsin-Lei Dance Theatre is the first professional dance company in the Hsin-Chu Area of Taiwan, and will offer a unique mix of modern choreography with dances dating back to the seventh-century Tang Dynasty. In addition to its own version of the “Hakka Tea-Picking” dance, they will perform four other dances including “Peacocks in Black,” a tribute to the elegance of women who are represented by dancers replicating the motion of peacocks.
Providing an alternative to the dance performances, the Sun Musical Concert Choir will feature flutist Grace Lin performing songs including the “Ancient Melody of Taiwan,” while backed by the Taiwanese-American choir and soloists. Lin has performed throughout the United States, Canada and Asia as a soloist, chamber musician and teacher.
The recipients of the evening’s proceeds have each done intriguing work with cancer research. The Encino-based Dr. Susan Love Research Foundation has worked with Pasadena-based Jet Propulsion Laboratory to digitally map the breast ductal system, where breast cancer develops. Meanwhile, the John Wayne Cancer Foundation, headed by the movie icon’s son Patrick, conducts multidisciplinary basic, clinical and translational research on complex cancer problems.
The “Spreading Love Fighting Cancer Charity Concert” takes place from 7 to 9:30 p.m. Sunday at the Pasadena Civic Auditorium, 300 E. Green St., Pasadena. Tickets are $39 to $89. Visit visitpasadena.com/events/spreading-love-fighting-cancer/