Four Famous Dan Actors 四大名旦
Sheng, a male role, usually a leading one, dates back to Southern Drama of the Song and Yuan Dynasties (960-1368). This role appears in operas in all historical periods. According to the age and social status of the characters, Sheng falls into five sub-groups: Laosheng, Xiaosheng, Wusheng, Hongsheng and Wawasheng (characters of children). Laosheng is also known as Xusheng, meaning bearded men, because the actors wear artificial beards, and they are middle-aged or elderly men. Most are upright and resolute characters. They sing in their natural voices, and their actions are serious ones. Xiaosheng is a sub-category of Sheng representing young male characters. They don't wear artificial beards. They always sing in their real voices, while in Kunqu and Pihuang operas the singing mixes natural and falsetto voices. Wusheng stands for all of the male characters who appear in battle scenes. They are further subdivided into Changkao Wuheng, Duanda Wusheng, Goulian Wusheng and Houxi Wusheng. They always wear helmets and thick-soled boots. The generals always carry long pikes. Wusheng roles call for sturdy and vigorous actions, with resounding declamations. The movements of the waist and legs are powerful, and a high level of martial arts skills is demanded in these roles. Duanda Wusheng roles use short-handled weapons, and their movements are light and swift.
Dan is the general term in Peking Opera for female roles. As early as in the Song Dynasty(960-1279), the Zhuangdan role appeared. Southern Drama and Northern Zaju, which developed during the Song and Yuan Dynasties(960-1368), also had Dan roles. After Kunqu matured, it had Zhengdan, Xiaodan, Tidan and Laodan. Later, more Dan types were developed. Nowadays, the Dan roles are subdivided into Zhengdan (or Qingyi), Huadan, Wudan, Laodan and Caidan, in accordance with age, characteristics and social positions of the roles. Zhengdan role was the main Dan role in the Northern Zaju. Zhengdan refers to young or middle-aged women with gentle and refined dispositions. Most of Zhengdan 's lines are delivered in song, and even the spoken parts are recited in rhythmic style. Always dressed in a blue gown, Zhengdan is also called Qingyi (blue clothes). Huadan is a role for a vivacious maiden, a young woman with a frank and open personality, or a woman of questionable character. Wudan refers to female characters skilled in the martial arts and can be subdivided into Daomadan and Wudan, according to the social positions and skills represented. Daomadan is good at using pikes and spears, and at riding horses. Wudan always wears short robes and the role emphasizes acrobatics. Wudan plays gods and ghosts and has excellent fighting skills. Laodan usually represents aged women. He/She sings in their natural voices, in a style similar to that of Laosheng but in milder tones. In some types of opera, Laodan is called Fudan or Bodan. Caidan, also called Choudan, represents clownish and cunning females. The performance of this part calls for exuberance.
Jing refers to painted-face roles, known popularly as Hualian. The different colors and designs on the faces represent males with different characteristics. Some are bold and vigorous and some are sinister, ruthless, crude and rash. The voice is loud and clear, and the movements are exaggerated. The Jing role originates from the Fujing role of the Song Zaju. The Jing roles gradually increased in number, and became further divided into several groups, according to the different social positions and characters of the roles. Dahualian with a fully painted face is known as Zheng Jing. The roles represent men of high social standing and good behavior, often court ministers. Zheng Jing sings in vigorous and sturdy tones. Erhualian, also known as Fu Jing, has powerful bodily movements and sturdy singing voices. Some roles in this group represent rascally ministers, recognizable by their white faces. Wu'er Hualian is also known as Wu Jing. This role is more physical than most of the others, with little singing or reciting. You Hualian, also known as Mao Jing, is a clownish role. Some of You Hualian roles have special skills, such as spouting fire from the mouth or baring the teeth.
The Chou is one of the main roles in Peking Opera. The eyes and nose are surrounded by a white patch, so Chou is also known as Xiao Hua Lian (partly painted face).The Chou roles originated in Southern Drama of the Song and Yuan dynasties (960-1368) and appear in various kinds of operas. They portray various kinds of characters, some are warm-hearted, simple and sincere, and some are sinister and mean. In modern operas, the performance of Chou roles has developed rapidly, and different operas have their own styles. In general, the Chou roles do not focus on singing, but the dialogue is clear and fluent. According to the social positions, characters and skills demanded, the Chou roles are divided into two categories: Wenchou (civilian) and Wuchou (martial). Both have their own special features. Wuchou is also known as Kai Kou Tiao. It requires not only a good command of the martial arts or acrobatics, but also the ability to deliver the lines both clearly and fluently. The movements should be light and powerful.