Just What Is a Nine Dragon Spot?

Back in the days before TV and movies had title sequences, back in the days before theater or opera performances had printed programs or libretti, back in the days before posters were printed up and tacked on walls, theatrical troupes needed some way of introducing characters and situations to audiences.   The conventions surrounding the Nine Dragon Spot are one solution to that problem.

In Beijing opera, it is common for important or imposing male characters (young warriors, wise advisors, evil tyrants, and so on…)  to make a great impression on their first appearance.  Entering from stage right, they halt at a point half-way upstage about half-way right of center.  There, at the Nine Dragon Spot (jiǔ lóng kǒu, 九龙口), they pause for a moment and execute a series of characteristic gestures.  They may draw attention to their helmets, their beard, their eyes, their clothes.   Martial figures may lift a leg to demonstrate physical prowess.  Agitated characters might wiggle their face about.   You might think of this introductory series of poses (liàngxiàng, 亮相) as functioning like a movie poster, giving us a moment to take in the costume, makeup, and bearing of the character coming in.  Like the portraits in Harry Potter, they move!

From the Nine Dragon Spot, the character proceeds slowly down an imaginary catwalk to front and center stage.   At some point along the way, the actor will deliver a couple of introductory lines (yǐnzi,引子), a concise poetic motto which tells the audience something about his character, his situation or his frame of mind.    Every one else on stage stands still – this is a moment for the actor and the audience alone.

The conventions associated with the Nine Dragon Spot are Chinese opera’s way of saying “Hello”.

below: a video of some entrances from the Beijing opera “Nine River Spot” (九江口) illustrating a few ways the approaches to and from the Nine Dragon Spot can be handled.

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