This was Charles Fréger’s first trip to China. He returned there twice more while making the series Opera. He was granted access to several of the schools of the Beijing Opera and the first thing he did was to compile a set of portraits of students dressed in the costumes used for their apprenticeship: old-fashioned, rough looking and roughly made, rust coloured, canvas garments. In these photographs of the students in sparse surroundings, it seems as if nothing modern has ever crossed the threshold; these are vestiges of the China of days gone by. The rudimentary nature of the costume led him to concentrate his attention on the students’ full-length profile, the way they held their body and their gestures within the space. Huge, monumental figures stand out against the neutral background, with long, thin staves holding flags attached to their backs and their hands twisted and fingers raised according, it would seem, to a codified repertory. Then there are portraits of children, elaborately made up and dressed in the costume of a character. The photographer gradually moves in on them, going from full-length shots to head and shoulders pictures in which the heavily made-up face is framed by the complex finery of the costume. The lines of the elaborate face make-up merge into the pattern of the embroidered garments and the colours match to the very last pom-pom at the top of a headdress. Charles Fréger chose to explore this maze of formal correspondences and set about capturing the way the colours or the materials echoed each other, fully aware that he was unable to understand the symbolic language of what was going on in front of his lens. The hermetic nature of the subject brought him back to China over and over again. His urge to understand and to be allowed into this other circle, namely the Opera, gave rise to an artistic impulse similar to his performances in the series Empire – he returned one last time in 2009 to be fitted for the costume of General Lu Quan Ren, the character he created for himself. Thus attired, he performed the sequence of warlike movements belonging to his character. This was a further episode of his Vis Voluntatis performance.