One of my favorite traditional Chinese peforming arts is Bian Lian (变脸), which literally means “change face.” As he performs choreographed moves, the performer instantly changes masks– so instantly in fact, that it’s nearly impossible to tell how it is done.
Tradition has it that the art form could only be passed down from father to son, and that this is the reason how bian lian is done is still considered a secret.
At the birthday dinner for my mom last month, we ended up having a private performance of Bian Lian in our dining room.
There is also an excellent movie about Bian Lian called “The King of Masks.”
Set in 1930′s China, it is the story of a Bian Lian master who, not having a son to pass on the art to, purchases a small child that he thinks is a boy. It’s an excellent, but at times heart-wrenching film.