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The busiest time of the year for the performing arts is during the Hong Kong Arts Festival, held annually in February and March. This international 3-week affair features artists from around the world performing with orchestras, dance troupes, opera companies, and chamber ensembles. For information about the Hong Kong Arts Festival programs, tickets (HK$60-HK$650), and future dates, call tel. 852/2824 2430 or visit www.hk.artsfestival.org.

To obtain tickets for the Hong Kong Arts Festival, as well as tickets throughout the year for classical-music performances (including the Hong Kong Philharmonic Orchestra and the Hong Kong Chinese Orchestra), Chinese opera, rock and pop concerts, theatrical productions, dance, and other major events, contact the Urban Council Ticketing Office (URBTIX), the ticketing system run by the government's Leisure and Cultural Services Department. Convenient URBTIX outlets are in City Hall (Low Block, 7 Edinburgh Place, in Central) and the Hong Kong Cultural Centre (10 Salisbury Rd., Tsim Sha Tsui); both offices are open daily 10am to 9:30pm. Drop by one of the outlets, or reserve a ticket in advance by calling URBTIX at tel. 852/2734 9009. You can also book tickets before arriving in Hong Kong, either by calling the Credit Card Hotline at tel. 852/2111 5999, daily from 10am to 8pm Hong Kong time, or buying online at www.urbtix.hk.

Another agency, HK Ticketing (tel. 852/3128 8288; www.hkticketing.com), sells tickets for major concerts, musicals, dramas, sport events, and more.

Note: Full-time students and senior citizens are often eligible for half-price tickets, so be sure to ask when making reservations.

Chinese Opera

Of the various Chinese performing arts, Chinese opera is the most popular and widely loved. Dating back to the Mongol period, Chinese opera predates the first Western opera by about 600 years, although it wasn't until the 13th and 14th centuries that performances began to develop a structured operatic form, with rules of composition and fixed role characterization. Distinct regional styles also developed, and even today marked differences are visible among the operas performed in, say, Peking, Canton, Shanghai, Fukien, Chiu Chow, and Sichuan.

Most popular in Hong Kong are Beijing (or Peking) opera, with its spectacular costumes, elaborate makeup, and feats of acrobatics and swordsmanship; and the less flamboyant but more readily understood Cantonese-style opera. Plots usually dramatize legends and historical events and extol such virtues as loyalty, filial piety, and righteousness, with virtue, corruption, violence, and lust serving as common themes. Performances feature elaborate costumes and makeup, haunting tonal orchestrations, and crashing cymbals. Accompanied by seven or eight musicians, the actor-singers sing in shrill, high-pitched falsetto, a sound Westerners sometimes do not initially appreciate. Although lyrics are in Chinese, body language helps translate the stories and costumes are chosen to signify specific stage personalities; yellow is reserved for emperors, while purple is the color worn by barbarians.

Another aspect of Chinese opera that surprises Westerners is its informality. Unlike Western performances, Chinese operas are noisy affairs. No one minds if spectators arrive late or leave early; in fact, no one even minds if a spectator, upon spotting friends or relatives, makes his or her way through the auditorium for a chat.

For visitors, the easiest way to see a Chinese opera is during the Hong Kong Arts Festival , held from about mid-February to mid-March each year. In 2010, the Leisure and Cultural Services Department staged its first Chinese Opera Festival featuring Chinese opera from all over China, with plans to make it an annual event every June and July; for updates, call tel. 852/2268 7325 or visit www.lcsd.gov.hk/cp. Alternatively, Cantonese opera is a common feature of important Chinese festivals, such as the birthday of Tin Hau or the annual Bun Festival on Cheung Chau island, when temporary bamboo theaters are erected.

Otherwise, Cantonese opera is performed fairly regularly at town halls in the New Territories, as well as in City Hall in Central and the Hong Kong Cultural Centre in Tsim Sha Tsui. However, Chinese opera is immensely popular in Hong Kong, so much so that tickets for these shows often sell out well in advance, making it difficult for tourists to attend performances. If you're still determined to try, call URBTIX in advance of your arrival in Hong Kong or book online , or, once in the SAR, contact the HKTB or check with one of the tourist publications for information on what's playing and then call or drop by URBTIX. Alternatively, the concierge of your hotel may be able to secure seats. Prices range from about HK$100 to HK$300.

Dance

Both the Hong Kong Ballet Company and the Hong Kong Dance Company have extensive repertoires. The Hong Kong Ballet Company (tel. 852/2573 7398; www.hkballet.com), founded in 1979, performs both classical works and modern pieces, usually at the Hong Kong Cultural Centre. The Hong Kong Dance Company (tel. 852/3103 1888; www.hkdance.com) specializes in traditional Chinese dance and the development of Chinese dance in modern forms, with about five major productions each year.

Theater

Most plays presented in the SAR are performed in Cantonese. Hong Kong's leading local troupes are the Chung Ying Theatre Company (tel. 852/2521 6628), a nonprofit community ensemble that plays in a wide range of venues, from schools and seniors' homes to Hong Kong's main theaters, often performing works by local writers, and the Hong Kong Repertory Theatre (tel. 852/3103 5930; www.hkrep.com), which performs original Chinese works and Western classics. Both perform in Cantonese at various venues, including City Hall in Central and the Hong Kong Cultural Centre in Tsim Sha Tsui. Prices range from about HK$100 to HK$160.

Otherwise, your best bet for English-language performances is at the Fringe Club, 2 Lower Albert Rd., Central (tel. 852/2521 7251; www.hkfringeclub.com; MTR: Central), a venue for experimental drama (in English and Cantonese), poetry readings, live music, comedy, art exhibitions, and other happenings, from mime to magic shows. The Fringe Club occupies a former dairy-farm depot built in 1813 and consists of two theaters, exhibition space, a restaurant, and a rooftop bar.

Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.