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Be it literal or figurative, the act of donning make-up or masks helps to immerse artists into a role. We look at more faces of the performing arts from Asia, which show that when it comes to transforming ourselves, we’re only limited by where inspiration can bring us.
Origin: Bali, Indonesia
In Balinese tradition, barong can refer to a mask of a mythological animal. The term also popularly refers to the barong kek, a mythological lion-like creature who is a spirit king. Revered as a protector of villages, barong kek is popularly featured in traditional dances in battle with Rangda, an evil queen of witches.
The barong can also be depicted as a tiger, a wild boar, dog or cow.
Premiered 12 Mar 2004, Esplanade Theatre, Singapore
The epic creation myth of the Bugis people of South Sulawesi, Indonesia, was adapted for the theatre stage by Robert Wilson, renowned experimental theatre director and playwright, in 2004. In the production commissioned and co-produced by Esplanade, animals are represented through performers wearing costumes and different animal masks.
After its premiere in Singapore, I La Galigo went on to be presented in other parts of Asia, Australia, Europe and the US.
Khon – Thai traditional dance drama
Origin: 1691, Ayutthaya, Thailand (first recorded reference)
Khon is an iconic dance drama originating from Thailand that was originally only performed in the royal court. Tales from the Ramakien—an epic Thai tale based on the Ramayana—are told by elaborately costumed and made up performers who do not speak, relying on expressive gestures.
Originally, masks were worn by all Khon performers. Now, masks are only used for demon and monkey characters, such as Hanuman.
20 Dec 2015, Storytelling and Craft session, Esplanade – Theatres on the Bay, Singapore
These cute masks were lovingly made and worn by the young participants of A Fun and Interactive Afternoon with a Special Elephant! storytelling and craft session at the library@esplanade. Each elephant mask was unique, and a special personal keepsake for these young arts goers.
Masks are a great way of getting kids, or anyone else, to engage in pretend play. Read more
Origin: 4th century, China
In Chinese Opera, Dan refers generally to female roles, and Hua Dan (flowery role) is the specific role of a young, lively female character. They are usually maidservants or unmarried women.
If you see a female character wearing pants and holding a red handkerchief or other object in her hand, she’s most probably a Hua Dan.
Origin: 4th century, China
Also known as Hua Lian, the Jing role features male characters with prominently painted faces. These include righteous outlaws, monks and judges, and they are roles that either feature a lot of singing, or a lot of action scenes.
Jing roles are portrayed by artists who present their own distinctive performance styles with their character.
Premiered 13 May 2013, Hong Kong Cultural Centre
The performers in Travel with Mum, a theatrical presentation based on a true story, wore half masks that were designed to evoke different expressions when viewed from different angles. This was helped with clever use of light and shadows.
Wearing masks helped the performers be more expressive on stage, as they relied on their entire bodies to convey emotions.
Topeng – Indonesian dance drama
Origin: 14th century, Indonesia
Topeng (“mask”) Bali is a dramatic dance form that is used to tell ancient Balinese tales, usually of heroes and kings, accompanied by live gamelan music. Most of the performers wear full face masks (topeng bungkulan) and do not speak, but the narrator, known as the penasar, wears a jawless half-mask (topeng sibakan).
A half mask is often used in performances because it allows the performer to speak, and be heard, clearly.
Designed by Piyaporn Bhongse Tong, 2016
Thai choreographer Pichet Klunchun’s Dancing with Death featured a unique raised oval stage on which dancers performed. They wore bright, stunning costumes, inspired by the colourful masks and vibrant costumes worn during Phi Ta Khon, a joyous Thai festival of ghosts that honours both fertility and death.
During Dancing with Death’s run in the Esplanade Theatre, audience members sat onstage up close to the performance.
Yakshagana – Indian traditional theatre
Origin: 16th century, Karnataka, India
Originating from Karnataka in Southwest India, Yakshagana, literally meaning “celestial singing”, is a theatrical storytelling art form that combines music, singing, acting, dancing and elaborate costumes. Starting as a folk art, it has developed such that Yakshagana is now classified into northern and southern varieties.
Yakshagana artists are also classified into two broad categories—singers and interpreters in one, actors and dancers in the other.