In February a series of 6 freshly made short documentary films will be streamed at Leeds Industrial Museums to coincide with Chinese New Year celebrations between 12th and 26th February.
The 6 documentary films each tell a story of the interwoven development of Shanghai All-Female Yueju and the Shanghai Textile Industry from their historical formation to post-industrial digital transformation. They exhibit the formation of China’s first female working class, the textile workers, and their own sponsored urban art form, the All-female Yueju in early 20th century, examining the rise and fall through the era of Mao Zedong and post-industrial transition of the 1990s, when over 500,000 female textile workers were made redundant. They question contemporary Shanghai’s full commitment to digital performance and fashion technology for the newly rising middle class, with little memory of the textile workers and their voices in the mill-turned creative arts cluster. The documentary films provide viewers with the fascinating stories of a 100 years of the Shanghai Textile Industry and its female workers past and present.
To coincide with celebrations for Chinese New Year, Leeds Industrial Museum is hosting the online exhibition Song of the Female Textile Workers, including streaming six short documentary films created for this project. This exhibition will run continuously throughout the project and can be found here.
Each documentary film rediscovers a different facet of the UK-China textile industries as well as telling the stories of industrial and cultural development in Shanghai. They aim to explore the commonalities between the women who toiled in textile factories and on production lines thousands of miles apart between UK and China.
Following the online digital exhibition ‘ Song of the Female Textile Workers’ held throughout February on the Leeds Industrial Museum website, on the 18th March 2021 we held a Post Exhibition Discussion event.
The discussion was open to the public and held online. It was co-chaired by Dr. Haili Ma, project Principal Investigator at the University of Leeds, Mr. Chris Sharp, Community Curator at Leeds Industrial Museum, and Mr. Steve Ansell, Artistic Director of Stage@Leeds.
The discussion explored how Shanghai, Leeds and Yorkshire can use traditional culture to connect communities in the digital age. It also explored the opportunities and challenges that may be encountered when collaborating online from three levels: censorship, digital compatibility and artistic creativity The details of the post-exhibition discussion can be found here.
During the week commencing April 19th, Stage@LeedsDigital will host the open door rehearsals of the performance Song of the Female Textile Workers, in collaboration with Shanghai Yue Opera House.
The one-woman performance Song of the Female Textile Workers is a practice-led research which will see the close collaboration between Shanghai Yue Opera House star performer WANG Rousang, artistic director Steve Ansell, and digital media creators Human VR and DUBIT. It explores Chinese traditional theatre, the Actor’s Theatre vs. Director’s Theatre creative process, and digital UK-China connectivity. Audience response to the process will be collected and analysed to test possible UK-China audience commonality.
Song of the Female Textile Workers is now well underway, powering through the rehearsal stage. On 27th May 2021, stage@leeds hosted an online performance which showed the rehearsal footage, where star performer Rousang Wang from Shanghai Yue Opera House joined her co-star, the digital footage created by Human Studio from Sheffield, UK. The performance has been created entirely online. This was the first time that a rehearsal of it had been presented to the audience across UK and China. This particular rehearsal footage shows the development of choreography, designed especially for this project by Rousang to The Butterfly Lovers Violin Concerto, which closes the performance.
This footage can be viewed on Stage@Leeds’ Youtube channel below.
Following on from the showing of the rehearsal footage above, a post-show discussion was held. Chaired by Dr Joslin McKinney, Associate Professor in Scenography at School of Performance and Cultural Industries, University of Leeds, the discussion allowed audiences to ask questions of Principal Investigator, Dr Haili Ma, Artistic Director of Stage@Leeds, Steve Ansell, and of lead performer Wang Rousang, star performer of Shanghai Yue Opera House.
Further details can be found on the Stage@Leeds website here.
July and August 2021
Throughout the summer of 2021, Song of the Female Textile Worker underwent its most significant period of consolidation. This entailed a massive collective effort between all partners, both in the UK and China, in order to meet the anticipated performance dates at the end of September.
In Shanghai, physical rehearsals were well underway at the Shanghai Yue Opera House. After some very important meetings with Dr Ma and Steve Ansell, the choreography shown above was carefully directed and incorporated as a beautiful finale to Dr Ma’s script. Rehearsals were filmed, scene by scene in order to show the full story coming together, combining the highly stylised Shanghai Yue Opera you can see in the choreography alongside a more naturalistic, ‘Western’ style of spoken drama or ‘Hua-Chu’.
With the greatest of thanks to our esteemed partners at the Shanghai Textile Museum, Leeds Industrial Museum and East China University of Political Science and Law, documentary footage showing numerous historical angles of the experience of working class women in China was continuing to be shown in an online exhibition on the Leeds Industrial Museum that can still be seen here.
The collaboration between these two museums stood as testimony to the shared cultural heritage of working class women in the textile industries across the two countries, and both the tangible and intangible heritages that encapsulated both of their experiences, emphasising the shared histories between Shanghai and Leeds despite the thousands of miles that separate them. For us this stood as further proof of the power of the digital world to connect us, not just in the present, but in our shared pasts, and our hopes for the future.
Throughout this period, our likewise esteemed colleagues in Sheffield – Human Studio, were busy at work designing Rousang’s “co-star”. The digital effects that served to bring the world, both real and symbolic for Rousang’s character, act in many ways as the second character throughout the project, and it was important to the project that it be given as prominent a role as Rousang herself. From the view of the Bund from the window of the flat where the action takes place, to the flowers and butterflies that form an essential part of the action, Human Studio designed it all. Numerous meetings took place over the summer between Nick Bax and Abby Hambleton at Human and Dr Haili Ma and Steve Ansell at The University of Leeds in order to ensure that these details did not get left in the background, but did indeed come to share the stage. For details of the development please see our performance development ‘In rehearsal’ page here.
Recorded performances of Song of the Female Textile Workers were played for a live audience at Stage One at Stage@Leeds on Tuesday 21st and Wednesday 22nd of September 2021. This coincided with the return of taught students to the University of Leeds, and marked the successful opening to Stage@Leed’s autumn season. The full news article on this can be found here.
November 2021 (date to be confirmed)
Conference – a two day online conference will be held to discuss the process of creation, collaboration, and audience response across UK and China. It will present both research and industry partners papers, and will include a panel devoted to young scholars and students who have worked as interns and developed their research dissertations through this project.
The conference will also showcase the performance as well as a series of documentary films, which will be produced alongside the creative process, as documentation of project development.