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Beijing Opera Masks and Face-Painting

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					Beijing Opera Masks and Face-Painting
One of the more striking aspects of the Beijing Opera is the Masks and
Facial Make-up used to portray the various characters in a production.
The use of symbolic colors, stylized lines, and fantastical facial
exaggeration all serve the performance magic and grandeur. There is
really nothing that compares to a skillful and artistic rendition of one
of China's favorite stories from historical events and classical
literature.
The current Beijing Opera originated from a combination of several
sources. In 1790, the four great theatre groups from Anhui came to
perform for the Royal Family. They used the traditional melodies and aria
called Xi Pi. Around 1828, performers from Hubei joined them to form a
combined troupe adding their own music called Er Huang. Thousands of
pieces were performed regaling great tales of historic events and popular
literature as well as their own versions of Western stories.
There have been scholarly discussions concerning the origins of Chinese
theatrical mask wearing and face painting. A widely held theory is that
face painting developed from the dances called " Lanlingwang (Prince
Lanling)" from the Tang Dynasty (A.D. 618-907).
Another possible origin of this practice is rooted in the ancient use of
Masks and Make-up in religious ceremonies, particularly exorcisms. There
are examples of artwork that show shamans and other actors with stylized
painted faces. Upon closer examination, these look very much like the
early used of face painting and mask wearing in the Chinese opera
theatre.
There is an old saying from the Song (960-1279) and Yuan (1271-1368)
dynasties that was, "Shentou guimian", or "masks for Gods, make-up for
ghosts." It meant that to play a god you must wear a mask, but to play a
ghost all you needed was to slap some paint on your face. This followed
the idea that gods were sacred and it would be sacrilegious, perhaps even
dangerous, to portray them, whereas ghosts, the embodiment of disease,
poverty and evil were not subject to such respect. Craftsmen who carved
Deity masks believed that as soon as the eyes were carved out of a piece
of art, it then became animated with the spirit of the gods.
Over time, actors began to think that it was less a sin to portray gods
and spirits on the stage instead of in temples and palaces. They started
to favor make-up over the stoic solid masks in performance. This allowed
for more expression over the "dead face" of a mask to the "live face" of
paints and dyes.
For the longest time, performers took great liberty in their choice of
paint methods and colors. Later, during the Qing Dynasty (1644-1911) did
there become some conventions and standards. An agency called
Shengpingshu (Shengping Agency) was in charge of the affairs of opera
performance. They established painting of more than 200 of the current
operas with detailed instructions on the character make-up patterns. This
became the official standard for face painting.
There are four basic categories of characters in the standard Beijing
Opera.
Ø SHENG - Male roles
Ø DAN - Female Roles
Ø CHOU - Comedy roles
Ø JING - Painted face males
Jing, usually males, are the roles with facial painting representing
warriors, heroes, statesmen, adventurers, and demons. Jing are found in
three basic categories: Zhengjing, Fujing, and Wujing.
The JING roles are more known for courage and resourcefulness than for
intelligence. Sometimes a High-ranking General or Warrior/General they
usually have a swagger and great self-assurance. There are many common
color schemes associated with Jing roles but some have more convention
and are easily recognizable.
The compositions of face painting are classified into several patterns
based on the belief that a person's face can reveal much about their
personality. The overall designs of the face painting are given names
like, "three-tiles face", "six-tenths face", "cross face", "slant face",
"butterfly face" as well as many, many others.
The colors used on a Jing actors face have symbolic meaning.
Ø RED - Good character, heroic
Ø WHITE - Sneaky and treacherous
Ø GREEN - Rash, lacking self-control
Ø BLACK - Brusque character
Ø BLUE - Wild nature, a robber or thief
Ø GOLD/SILVER - Used only for Gods and Spirits
There are two main types of facial decorations in Chinese Opera: Masks
and Facial Painting. Sometimes there are many changes of masks and make-
up (even some without the audience's knowledge), this is called Changing
Faces. It is a difficult technique that is only mastered after many years
of serious and extensive training. This is sometimes used to display the
feelings of a character or change the energy of the particular scene.
Facial changes for sudden emotional changes are usually done in four
ways:
Ø BLOWING DUST - The actor blows black dust concealed in his palm so that
it blows back into his face.
Ø MANIPULATING BEARD - Beard colors can be changed while the beard is
being moved from black to gray to white showing anger or excitement.
Ø PULLING DOWN MASKS - The actor can pull down a mask that has been
sitting on top of his head to communicate a special emotional change.
Ø MOP - The actor mops out the greasepaint hidden in his sideburns or
eyebrows to change his facial appearance.
The colorful and flamboyant Jing characters of Beijing Opera theatre with
the Beijing Opera Mask as well as facial make-up are enduring part of
this very exquisite and beautiful art form. Audiences around the world
marvel at the technical virtuosity as well as the austerity of the
productions in this symbolic Chinese cultural event.
Timothy Jordan was born in Detroit, Michigan where he began a career in
music at a very early age. Having studied with the regions top teachers
and performers he set off on his own "MUSO SHUGYO" or musical wanderings
and ended up in Boston, Mass. While there he has performed in some of the
top music groups, touring, and recording for live, television, theatre
and movies. His percussion skills took him to Japan where he had an
intensive study with the drummers of KODO. Mr. Jordan also has studied
several martial arts styles including Iaido, the Japanese Sword. He
continues today to further his cultural studies and is currently the
owner of an Asian art and cultural goods Internet retail business, LIVE
COMPLETE and ZENSHO PRODUCTS.com

				
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