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Guan to share his choreographed martial arts techniques

Guan has performed with Oscar-winning actors and for President Nixon during his accomplished career.

Jamie H. J. Guan, an internationally acclaimed choreographer and performer in hundreds of martial arts warrior roles both in film and on the stage, will share his expertise in the Chinese musical acrobatic theater with Lehigh students in a lecture and demonstration at 4:30 p.m. on Wednesday, March 28 in the Black Box Theatre in the Zoellner Arts Center.

The lecture is free and open to the public.

Guan, who is serving as the Jerome A. Minskoff ‘36 Guest Artist this semester in Lehigh’s department of theatre, will demonstrate choreographed martial arts techniques with cast members of “Red,” the forthcoming Lehigh production of the classic story of 1960s China during the time of Chairman Mao Zedong’s Cultural Revolution.

It’s a role that Guan finds intimately familiar, having both performed it, and lived through. At the age of only 10, Guan left his family to train with the Peking Opera Institute—an honor afforded only 70 children out of a pool of 3,000 hopefuls.

“I studied with them for eight years, with martial arts and warrior roles, and then went on to the Peking Opera Troupe,” says Guan, on campus earlier in the semester for a one-week visit.

“During 1966,” he explains, “the Cultural Revolution started, and the Peking Opera was turned into the Revolutionary Opera. At that time, Madame Mao picked me—one of only five in our school—for the Revolutionary Tour. It was a very dangerous time, but a very exciting time. To be chosen was a great honor.”

A rewarding career

What followed was a career of rare opportunities, which included working with distinguished actors such as Anthony Hopkins, John Lithgow and Jeremy Irons; command performances for former President Richard Nixon during his historic visit to China in 1972; a prolific Broadway and film career; and a much-praised martial arts dance performance celebrating the film Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon during the 2001 Academy Awards ceremony.

Guan came to the United States during the 1980s, met his future wife and began appearing in and choreographing American productions. They included his Broadway debut in the highly honored M. Butterfly, and the film that followed.

He was also the fight instructor for the film, Soul Possessed, movement consultant for the Tony-nominated Golden Child, and choreographer for the world premiere of Red in Seattle in 1998.

Although he doesn’t consider them career-defining moments, he’s also choreographed television commercials for Coca-Cola and Red Dragon, appeared in print and billboard advertisements for AT&T, and had a role in the movie Saving Face.

“A small role,” he says. “A very small role, but I loved doing it. I love the opportunity to perform. I’ve been very fortunate that I’ve had so many opportunities, in this country and others.”

The opportunities are now coming at a faster pace than ever before—a development that he attributes, in part, to the resurgence in interest in the highly stylized martial arts choreography on display in the now-classic Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon film.

“I’ve worked with so many American choreographers in theatre and film, so I’ve had exposure to jazz, rock n’ roll, and the traditional American musical,” he says. “Now, we see choreographers accepted the martial arts influence more. They want to make something more ‘east-west,’ which is good.

“It’s a different culture, a different format,” he adds, “but good, because the art is there to share.”

Pam Pepper, the professor of theatre who is directing Red and who arranged for his visit as a guest artist, feels the campus community is extremely fortunate to have someone of his caliber.

“We want to extend the opportunity for all of our Lehigh community to meet him,” she says. “Since he's been coming to Lehigh over the past couple of months, he's had a tremendous impact on our students, who have welcomed this extraordinary learning opportunity. It's our hope that many more will welcome him to Lehigh.

Jamie H. J. Guan’s lecture and demonstration at 4:30 p.m. Wednesday, March 28 in the Zoellner Arts Center Black Box Theatre will be followed by a meet-and-greet session with light refreshments. All are welcome to attend. Complimentary tickets to Lehigh University’s production of Red, will be given to the first 50 audience members.

Red, by Chay Yew, will be performed Fri.-Sun., Apr. 13-15; Wed.-Sat., Apr. 18-21 in the Diamond Theater of the Zoellner Arts Center. It is being directed by Pam Pepper, professor of theatre. Tickets are $12. For ticket information, please call (610) 758-2787 (LU Arts).


--Linda Harbrecht

Posted on Monday, March 26, 2007

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