(Image Credit: Z & Y Restaurant, San Franicisco)
With the increase in globalization, people from many parts of the world are getting to enjoy and experience a wide range of other cultures. This includes the Sichuan culture from China. Two of the most beloved facets of this culture include the wonderful, spicy cuisine, along with their unique form of opera, which incorporates the unique art of face changing.
Those who enjoy Chinese food are probably quite familiar with the spicy flavor that Sichuan cuisine offers thanks to the peppers often used in preparing the dishes. While the cuisine might be known for using peppers in their food today, it was likely the last province in China to start using them regularly. Still, most people today think of the intense and spicy flavor of chili peppers when they are craving Sichuan fare.
Food is just one of the ways that Sichuan culture is starting to envelop many parts of the globe, though, as you will see with Sichuan opera.
A Brief History of the Sichuan Opera and Face Changing
At the end of the Ming Dynasty and the beginning of the Qing Dynasty in China, around 1644, Sichuan opera was created. It began as the result of immigration to Sichuan, where a range of dramas were weaved into Sichuan forms of art and entertainment including dance and folk music.
Over time, the art of Sichuan opera grew and increased in popularity, in part thanks to the use of face changing. This added facet separates it from other types of Chinese opera. Properly known as Bian Lian, is an art that seems magical when you watch adept performers on stage.
The techniques and nuances of this ancient art are kept hidden and secret and watching them perform is akin to watching a well-practiced magician. The performers utilize beautiful, colorful silk masks with different expressions and emotions on them, which they can change at an unbelievable speed.
While the face changing is certainly one of the draws that bring in audiences, the songs, dancing, and the stories told in Sichuan opera keep them entranced for the entire performance. Even those who do not speak the language can enjoy the performances because they can understand the emotions of the characters and what they are going through in the story.
Sichuan Opera Comes to Los Angeles
While traditionally an art performed in China, many have begun performing Sichuan operas with face changing in other parts of the world, including Los Angeles. Chen Qiaoru, two-time winner of the Plumb Blossom Award, performed at the Huntington Library and Museum of Los Angeles recently. She performed Striking the Gods to a very receptive audience. She’s also performed at the Hammer Museum, and will be starting a road show in Seattle, WA.
With more people learning about Sichuan opera and the wonderful stories it can tell, along with the beautiful costumes and the impressive art of face changing, it is sure to help this art form survive and even thrive.