Sichuan Opera an­other draw as Chengdu ‘goes global’

China Daily (Canada) - - HONGKONG - By HAO NAN hao­nan@chi­

Lisa Bielby is the first for­eigner in his­tory known to have par­tic­i­pated in a Sichuan Opera con­test.

Born in Michi­gan of the US, Bielby started to study drama in her home­town when she was 13 years old.

Whe n she c ame to Chengdu at the age of 24, she en­rolled in the provin­cial Sichuan Opera School to learn the more ortho­dox skills of recita­tion, act­ing, singing and ac­ro­bat­ics.

But she was not the first and only for­eign stu­dent reg­is­tered in the school, show­ing that the an­cient opera has grad­u­ally be­come a global phe­nom­e­non.

In­scribed on the na­tional in­tan­gi­ble her­itage list in 2006, the an­cient art form is widely known for less con­strained singing than the more pop­u­lar Pek­ing Opera.

Dra­mas are blended with lo­cal di­alects, cus­toms, folk mu­sic and dances into a more hu­mor­ous form unique to Sichuan cul­ture.

Face chang­ing is the high­light, a legacy from an­cient times when it is said people painted their faces to drive away wild an­i­mals.

Mod­ern Sichuan Opera has per­fected it into an art.

Per­form­ers make their own masks and no one else knows how they work as one im­age flicks in front of an­other.

Dif­fer­ent masks rep­re­sent chang­ing de­meanors and states of mind to show emo­tions and sud­den switches in mood to achieve artis­tic ef­fect.

The dra­matic art is mainly pre­sented in three forms — the wip­ing mask, blow­ing mask and pulling mask tech­niques.

Wip­ing mask re­quires per­form­ers to paint cos­met­ics on a cer­tain part of their faces.

When wiped off with a rapid move­ment, the coun­te­nance of the face ap­pears to change.

Blow­ing mask uses pow­der cos­met­ics in gold, sil­ver and ink.

A tiny can with pow­ders is placed on the floor of the stage. When ac­tors need to change faces, they blow into the can to make the pow­der fly up and stick to their face.

Pulling mask is the most com­plex, re­quir­ing ac­tors to draw dif­fer­ent im­ages on pieces of well-cut damask, link them with silk thread and paste them to their face one by one.

The silk thread is fas­tened in the belt or other in­con­spic­u­ous part of the cos­tume. Cov­ered by dance move­ment s , the ac­tor quickly whisks away the masks one by one as the drama de­vel­ops.

Per­form­ers can change some 10 masks in less than 20 sec­onds.

In ad­di­tion to in­ter­est­ing cul­ture, the cap­i­tal of Sichuan prov­ince also has rich his­tor­i­cal relics.

It is home to the re­mains of the Jin­sha civ­i­liza­tion that dates back more than 3,000 years

Widely be­lieved to have been the cap­i­tal of the an­cient Shu state, the site is hailed as one of the ma­jor arche­o­log­i­cal dis­cov­er­ies in China in the 21st century.

One of the Jin­sha relics un­earthed is a gold foil ren­der­ing of a divine so­lar bird. It is now used as the sym­bol of Chengdu and its lo­cal cul­tural her­itage.

The city also has the Qingcheng Moun­tains and the Du­jiangyan ir­ri­ga­tion sys­tem.

Qingcheng has long been rec­og­nized as the birth­place of Tao­ism, China’s an­cient indige­nous re­li­gion, while Du­jiangyan is con­sid­ered to be the old­est func­tion­ing wa­ter-con­trol project in the world.

Chengdu, cap­i­tal of Sichuan prov­ince, has im­ple­mented a 72-hour visa-free pol­icy since last Septem­ber, which will fur­ther help the iconic cul­ture to “go global”, lo­cal of­fi­cials say.

The visa pol­icy al­lows cit­i­zens from 51 coun­tries in Asia, Europe, the Amer­i­cas and Ocea­nia to spend three days in Chengdu if they have valid visas and on­ward flight tick­ets.

Chengdu is the first city in the western re­gion of China to of­fer for­eign tourists a three-day visa and the fourth na­tion­wide to adopt the pol­icy fol­low­ing Shang­hai, Bei­jing and Guangzhou.

Sichuan Opera orig­i­nated at the end of the Ming Dy­nasty ( 1368- 1644) and the be­gin­ning of the Qing Dy­nasty ( 1644- 1911) as mi­grants flooded into the prov­ince.

Fire ‘breath­ing’ in Sichuan Opera is usu­ally fol­lowed by the face-chang­ing dis­play for which it is renowned.


Above: Sichuan Opera ac­tor. Right: Some of the col­or­ful face masks used in per­for­mances.

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