The International Center for Beijing Opera (ICBO) was established to promote Beijing Opera all around the world in a way that has never been attempted before. ICBO troupes perform around the world, giving performances, workshops, lecture demonstrations and exhibitions. At the ICBO Training School in Beijing, Master Zhang Ming Lu oversees training of the young students and actors who will help to preserve this art form. At the age of 82 Master Zhang is the oldest surviving member of the original Beijing Opera School, Ming Chun Shi. In addition to the ongoing training of career performers, introductory and short-term training courses for non-Chinese students adds to the worldwide awareness of Beijing Opera and opens opportunities for Beijing Opera forms to enter other theatrical traditions.
Beijing Opera is the only art form that can truly represent China because it keeps together the diverse elements in Chinese culture: history, mythology, literature and poetry, singing, dancing, acting, face painting, stage fighting and acrobatics. However, this incredibly beautiful and complex art form has fallen upon hard times. The decline started with the Cultural Revolution, when traditional arts were forbidden, and has continued through recent years as competition from modern entertainment, pop music, Disney and Hollywood have taken economically booming China by storm. Young Chinese people are no longer interested in their own traditional art forms, which were handed down for generations. At ICBO we believe that the solution to this complex situation lies in a combination of efforts to preserve the traditional plays, while at the same time developing new plays which capture the hearts of young people.
Mei Lang Fan, one of the four "Fathers of Beijing Opera" led an early tour to the USA, Russia and Europe in the 1940s. Since then, Beijing Opera troupes have performed in many countries to welcoming Western audiences. Although the performances left an indelible impression of beauty, skill and excitement on the audience, little was done to explain the meaning of the movements, colors, symbols and history within the plays. Audiences would be hard put to remember anything other than spectacular dancing, costume and stage fighting. The goal of the ICBO is to reveal the meaning behind the movements, traditions and stories in the Beijing Opera, thus providing the audience with an experience that brings them closer to the Chinese people, their culture and history. ICBO does this in China and all over the world, through performances, workshops, demonstrations, introductions, subtitles and new multi-media techniques which unveil the secrets behind the performances.