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戲曲中心的前路及前往西九龍文化區攻略 | The way ahead for the Xiqu Centre & (literally) getting to the West Kowloon Cultural District
at 2:53pm on 25th February 2019
西九龍文化區：1. 海濱垂釣 (左)；草地嬉戲 (右)；2. 停泊在鄰近碼頭的小船。照片: 約翰百德
West Kowloon Cultural District: 1. fishing on the harbourfront (left); playing on the lawn (right); 2. boats docked at nearby pier. Photo: John Batten.
(Please scroll down for English version)
The Way Ahead for the Xiqu Centre & (literally) Getting to the West Kowloon Cultural District
by John Batten
The Xiqu Centre at the West Kowloon Cultural District opened with an official ribbon-cutting and, simultaneously, complaints from Chinese opera groups that the Centre''s hirer''s fee was too high. But, realistically, what rental did Chinese opera groups expect for a new multi-million dollar venue? Chinese opera is well-catered for by other venues in Hong Kong; the Xiqu Centre doesn''t hold a monopoly on space devoted to Chinese opera. Affordable rentals are available at the Ko Shan Theatre, the Yau Ma Tei Theatre and the privately-owned Sunbeam Theatre – market forces might influence future hirer’s charges at the Xiqu Centre. There are also the fabulous temporary outdoor bamboo pavilions constructed throughout Hong Kong during festivals. My personal favourite is the Chiu Chow opera performed during the Yu Lan (Ghost) Festival along the steep Hill Road in Shek Tong Tsui directly under the flyover. It is an unlikely, futuristic location; such a contrast to the opera performances, Buddhist chanting and piles of rice bags waiting to be distributed to donors and the elderly.
I envisage the Xiqu Centre - especially the Grand Theatre that seats just over 1,000 people - to evolve as a venue for all sorts of concerts, theatre, film and musical events, not just for Chinese opera. This might be a sacrilegious opinion so soon after its opening, but the reality of live venues is that they must be multi-layered and, to use that horrible category of architectural design favoured by government, they should be ‘multi-purpose’. A good flexible stage with generous wings allows a venue to host all sorts of live performances. The Xiqu Centre''s Grand Theatre also has an orchestra pit, so music of all genres could be performed there…and, why not rock concerts?
Naming the venue as the Xiqu Centre has created an expectation that the venue is only devoted to Chinese opera. Complaints about hirer''s costs probably emanate from that expectation. If there is a consolation for Hong Kong''s Chinese (particularly Cantonese) opera buffs is that future government support for Chinese opera is assured. Subsidised support for independent Chinese opera singers, musicians, troupes and venues will continue and the only lowering of expectations is that the Xiqu Centre won''t always be exclusively available to them.
Coinciding with the Xiqu Centre’s opening days, I visited the West Kowloon Cultural District on a beautiful sunny day. It is an excellent time of the year to visit and a perfect post-Chinese New Year activity. I had not been for some months and aimed to see the excellent Isamu Noguchi exhibition at the M+ Pavilion. However, it can be tricky finding the M+ Pavilion. Can I advise: I avoid arriving by MTR, it is a trek finding obscure exits and through the labyrinthine bus station. It is then almost impossible to find the right route once you are outside the walls of Elements shopping centre.
My usual strategy is to catch a bus running through the Western Harbour Tunnel from Hong Kong Island, bus number 914 is the cheapest, and get off at the first stop after the tunnel. Near the staircase, I carefully jump the fence running along the back of the bus stop (using the staircase and pedestrian bridge is too tedious compared to the direct 5 metre walk across the Tunnel''s slip-road!). There is an entrance into the WKCD a few metres along the footpath, which also leads to a container unloading area just behind the fenced pet park. Take a dog if you have one, they are allowed into the West Kowloon park. I detour briefly to look at the boats docked alongside the pier, always amazed by the huge tyres strapped to the pier edge and boats’ sides. Then, strictly following the signage pointing to the M+ Pavilion, stay on the footpath running alongside the harbour; this will take you to a lovely open grassed area. Prepare some food beforehand and have a picnic on the grass if the weather is good. You will have excellent panorama views of Hong Kong Island and back towards Kowloon.
Then, walk alongside the fenced-off construction site as the park nears completion, still following the signage. The small M+ Pavilion will emerge from a dip in the landscape and behind it is the under-construction inverted ‘T’ of the new M+ Museum. The current exhibition inside the M+ Pavilion featuring the American/Japanese artist, sculptor, landscape architect and designer Isamu Noguchi is excellent – watch the introductory video, read the pamphlet and look at the displays – you will learn about the aesthetics of modernism and nature through this master sculptor and designer of public spaces. After leaving the exhibition, consider how Noguchi may have tackled the design of the open areas of the West Kowloon Cultural District. It certainly wouldn’t be like it is!
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This article was originally published in Ming Pao Weekly, 16 February 2019. Translated by Aulina Chan.