A night at the Beijing opera

For William Lau, the key to playing the role of Wu San-niang — a legendary female warrior from roughly 1,000 years ago — is all about balance.

William Lau tells the CBC about finding the 'balance' when playing a woman

This week, China-trained dancer William Lau performed the role of Wu San-niang, a female warrior from about 1,000 years ago, at a Beijing opera performance in Ottawa. (Andrew Lee/CBC)

For William Lau, the key to playing a woman is all about balance.

An expert in Beijing opera, the China-trained dancer performed in Ottawa this week as Wu San-niang, a legendary warrior forced to defend her village after she learns of an impending attack.

"Imagine if you're a woman [playing the role]. No matter how strong your movements are, whatever you do, naturally they will believe you — you are a woman with martial arts skills," Lau told CBC News.

"Whereas me, if I go too strong, then where's the feminine? Where's the female part? If I don't do too strong, where's the warrior? So [it's about] how to balance that."

Before his performance Tuesday night at Arts Court, Lau spoke to the CBC's Andrew Lee about the intricacies of the historic art form.

Before performing in Ottawa this week, William Lau, dancer and expert in Beijing opera, spoke to CBC News about the intricacies of the historic art form. 3:28
William Lau prepares to play the role of Wu San-niang ahead of a performance at Arts Court in Ottawa on June 3, 2019. (Andrew Lee/CBC)
Lau examines his makeup in a mirror before Tuesday's performance. He began his opera training in 1991, and says the role of Wu San-niang was one of the first repertoires he learned. (Andrew Lee/CBC)
Some of the tubes of paint that Lau uses to morph into the role of Wu San-niang. The legend dates to the time of China's Song dynasty, which lasted from 960 to 1279. (Andrew Lee/CBC)
Lau says roles in Chinese opera are based less on one's biological sex and more on 'hidden talents' like flexibility and vocal range. For the role of Wu San-niang, Lau performs in falsetto. (Andrew/Lee)
Lau says he uses his eyes and his gestures to bring out the 'feminine aspect' of the character — which was difficult to evoke when he was at the start of his career, but now comes naturally. (Andrew Lee/CBC)
Lau performs as Chinese warrior Wu San-niang in Ottawa on June 3, 2019. The highly stylized dance is intended to show Wu's armament and her martial arts skills as she prepares to defend her village. (Andrew Lee/CBC)

With files from Andrew Lee


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