The Chongqing Grand Theatre重庆大剧院 is virtually at the tip of the Jiangbeizui peninsula, a piece of land that accosts the convergence point of the Yangtze and Jialing rivers.
As a small anecdote, many Chinese refer to the Yangtze erroneously as the ‘Long River.’ Indeed, the most widely used name is ‘Chang jiang长江, that literally means ‘long river.’
Interestingly, though, there is another name less widely known that stems from early contact with the outside world in the regions neighbouring the East China Sea, the name is ‘Yang zi jiang扬子江.’
In modern pinyin, the method for romanising written Chinese as a study method, 扬子 is spelt ‘yang zi,’ but since the name originates hundreds of years beforehand, the old spelling of Yangtze persists.
Funnily, whenever I explain this to Chinese friends and students for the first time, I also point out that there is actually a hotel in Jiefangbei called ‘Yangzi Island 扬子岛酒店, perfect for driving the tidbit home.
As a generality, I do love the situation where I remind locals of these little facts, and also the spelling of Chinese characters that temporarily slips their mind, just like what happens to us English speaking adults occasionally. Whenever this happens, you sense a wonderful blend of slight embarrassment and irony, all good natured, and shared by all parties.
Back to the cut
There are two main venues of choice for touring musical and theatrical companies, one is The Grand Theatre, the other by name is Guotai Yishu Zhongxin国泰艺术中心, meaning Cathay Arts Centre, but is a performance theatre for all intents and purposes.
In such a greatly populated metropolis, you might expect the best known theatre houses to be located in other districts, allowing tours to use both venues and improving access to spectators. As it happens, they are spaced 1500 metres apart either side of Qiansimen Bridge.
You cannot fail to notice the Grand Theatre once in sight. It occupies an open position on the peninsula tip, and has a jagged outer structure to perhaps embody the epithet of ‘Mountain City山城(Shan cheng). At night, the exterior walls become one giant flashing LED screen, advertising events, brandishing slogans, and expressing seasonal wishes.
Even when there is no performance on, people enjoy visiting to explore the surroundings, walk the halls, poke heads into the auditorium, sit in the cafes, both indoors and outdoors, plus looking at posters advertising upcoming events.
The management has also set aside space inside for VA Galleries维岸画廊, a Hong Kong registered art dealership run by a local entrepreneur. On the second floor, real estate developers display flashy models of their latest hot properties in this financial district of Chongqing.
Unless the event is a complete sell out, you will find that people just buy the cheapest tickets, leaving the front section of the bottom level almost empty. As soon as the doors close, and the show about to begin, the spectators jump en masse and dart for the expensive seats ahead. With so large of group of people, the management seems powerless to do anything bar electrifying the unsold seats.
Incidentally, the solo performance by Muye Wu was the best I have ever seen live. He performed all the Chopin etudes from memory, then finished with a Mid-autumn themed composition that he prepared himself. Unlike many other pianists, he interacted with the audience on many occasions rather than just taking to the stage, bowing, playing, bowing again, then leaving without a word.
The small, well hidden ticket office is rather uninspiring, but most people now purchase tickets on the official Wechat portal, on the slightly dysfunctional website, or by calling the hotline to see if anyone picks up.
A practical grip of Chinese makes life much easier here, there are not many English speaking staff or publicity leaflets, and the online portals are all in Chinese. A local would always be willing to help if you have any difficulty.
Thankfully, the reservation department offers free ticket delivery, and you can even choose to pay when you actually receive them in hand.
Here is a link to the Grand Theatre website, where you take a look at upcoming shows, find the Wechat QR code and contact numbers, all whilst trying to make sense of Chinese.
Unless you live prohibitively far, I strongly suggest walking from the Grand Theatre subway station, or from Jiefangbei across the bridge next to Hongyadong洪崖洞 if you happen to be in the area.
Alternatively, you can incorporate the pleasant nearby Central Park中央公园 as part of your visit, but not to be confused with the other identically named but not so centrally positioned ‘Central Park’ stuck away in the far northern reaches of the city!
Also, sandwiched in between Central Park and the Grand Theatre is the Science and Chongqing Technology Museum重庆科技馆. You could spend an entire afternoon and evening between these three juxtaposed locations, then finish off at the bar outside the main theatre entrance to take in the atmosphere and stunning nightviews across the river.