Face-changing in Sichuan Opera川剧变脸

Face-changing in Sichuan Opera



We cannot talk about face changing without mentioning Sichuan opera. Sichuan Opera is one of many local operas in China, popular in the provinces of Sichuan, Yunnan and Guizhou. Face changing is not simply changing one’s facial makeup in a casual way, but is a special technique in the performance of Sichuan Opera. It refers to the changing of masks in quick succession to show different emotions and feelings of the character in the play.


It is said the origin of face changing has something to do with the resistance of wild beasts. In ancient times, when coming across a ferocious animal, people used to draw different patterns on their faces to scare the animal away and keep themselves safe. Later on, such trick was applied to the stage performance of Sichuan Opera, and the unique art of face changing has thus come into being.


变脸也有很多种方法,大体上可以分为三种: “抹脸”、“吹脸”和“扯脸”。
Face-changing techniques generally fall into three categories, “wiping”, “blowing” and “pulling”


抹脸”是将化妆油彩涂在脸的某一部位上,到时用手往脸上一抹,便可变成另外一种脸色。 “吹脸”只适合于粉末状的化妆品。表演时,会在舞台的地面上摆一个很小的盒子,里面装粉末,演员到时做一个伏地的舞蹈动作,趁机将脸贴近盒子一吹,粉末扑在脸上,立即就能变成另一种颜色的脸。“扯脸”是事前将脸谱画在一张一张的绸子上,剪好,每张脸谱上都系一把丝线,再一张一张地贴在脸上。丝线则系在衣服的某个地方,但不能让别人看出来,很多人常常把它系在腰带上。表演时,在舞蹈动作的掩护下,再一张一张地将它扯下来。
“Wiping” is to spread the paint over the face while performing. The paint is put on a certain part of the face in advance. “Blowing” is only employed when powder cosmetics are used. On the stage, a tiny box with powder cosmetics in it is placed before hand. A movement of prostration near the box will enable the performer to blow the powder onto his face. When one is going to use the “pulling” technique he has to draw facial masks on fine pieces of silk cloth, cut them into the right size, tie a thin thread to each mask and stick them onto his face before the performance. The threads are fastened to somewhere hidden in his costumes. Many performers prefer to tie them onto their waistbands. When performing, the artist would pull the mask off one after another under the cover of various dancing movements.


In practice, the first method of the three is most employed because it is the simplest, while “blowing” is relatively more complicated since one has to close his eyes and shut up his mouth when blowing in case the powder would fly into his eyes and mouth so the performance would not be continued. However, “pulling” is the most troublesome among the three skills. The dancing movements have to be natural and the action of pulling should be invisible to the audience. If the audience sees through the trick of face changing, they would probably get dissatisfied and pull a face too!
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