Saturday Nite Culture

Opening stance to Dodo, the mask-changer's act
at Tan Hiok Nee Cultural Street
Dodo, a multi-talented artiste from Harbin, China, was the main attraction at the live performance in Tan Hiok Nee Cultural Street one Saturday night last May. 

A crowd of about 500 people were mesmerized, charmed and entertained in this special show, jointly organized by the Johor Baru Chinese Association and Tan Chai Puan, Director of the Teochew Eight Districts Association.  This was just one of the many live entertainment shows lined up in the coming weeks at Johor Baru’s main Chinese cultural street.

Every Saturday night, Tan Hiok Nee Cultural Street is closed to vehicular traffic and turned into a street carnival lined with several stalls that serve Chinese specialties and sell souvenirs and useful knick-knacks.  The air is fragrant with freshly fried Teochew snacks that customers buy to eat piping hot or for takeaways.  Meanwhile fans of karaoke, join the queue to belt out their favourite songs to an appreciative audience. 

A moment ago, his mask changed and in seconds,
this demon-face disappeared!
In an effort to keep the culture and heritage of the Chinese community Johor Baru alive, the Chinese Associations in Johor Baru are bringing back the excitement and nostalgia of street entertainment for a new generation to experience and enjoy.  Tan recalled that when he was growing up in Jalan Ungku Puan, he used to watch live street entertainment usually provided by peddlers and medicine men that attracted crowds with their amazing feats. 

On that Saturday night, the heart of old Johor Baru throbbed with the fun and excitement reminiscent of bygone days as Dodo took to the stage with his dramatic mask-changing performance. 

Mask-changing or face-changing is literally translated as “Bian Lian” in Chinese language.  This ancient Chinese dramatic art has a history of 300 years and is part of the Szechuan opera.  It is considered one of China’s most elusive performing arts because of its closely guarded secrets and technically forbidden to women because when they marry, this secret art may be shared with her new family.

A section of the audience, enjoying the "live" show
The audience at Tan Hiok Nee Cultural Street was in awe of Dodo and responded with appreciative applause as they watched him perform his slick moves skillfully to dramatic music.  With a flourish of his arms and the clever flick of his cloak, his painted mask changed in quick succession in split seconds.  Full-face, painted silk masks designed in vivid colours changed in a blink of an eye from a demon-face monster to the Monkey god and on to a clown’s face in a series of quick changes.

In full view of his audience, Dodo moved skillfully with no contact between his hands and his face but the masks kept changing in split seconds with the mere flick of his head.  All too soon the full-face masks gave way to a half-mask and suddenly it was over when he whisked off his head-dress and cloak to reveal his own face and clean shaven head save for a tiny tuft of hair.  The momentum and mystery of the art added to the magic of the evening as the audience was absolutely wowed by his act.

Dodo blowing up a rubber tube with just one nostril...
[Notice balloon on the right that finally exploded!]
Dodo continued to thrill his audience with more amazing feats like blowing up a rubber tube of a truck tyre using just one nostril, in 60 seconds.  A balloon attached to the tube gradually expanded along with the tube until the balloon exploded.  As if this was not proof enough of his prowess, Dodo picked up a Chinese traditional wind instrument and played it melodiously, also by using a single nostril.

With the enthusiastic response from his audience, this prolific entertainer was unstoppable.  He went on to play the saxophone, trumpet and traditional Chinese flute – this time with his mouth – and had enough breath to belt out a few popluar Chinese songs while he interacted with the audience.  For the finale, Dodo had everyone totally mesmerized by his fire-breathing act as he lit up the night sky with giant plumes of fire.

Dodo lighting up the night sky with
his fire-breathing performance
At the close of this show, Tan was upbeat about how the proud heritage of street entertainment can thrive in Johor Baru with the support of families and tourists who make Tan Hiok Nee Cultural Street a regular destination.  

There was an air of eager anticipation among the audience when Tan said there will be a "dragon" spanning the length of Jalan Tan Hiok Nee with its head at the top of Bukit Timbalan and its tail at the OCBC Bank.  The dragon is a metaphor he used to illustrate the constant stream of people who will throng this area during the Johor Baru Arts Festival.  Last July, the Tan Hiok Nee Cultural Street Committee worked in partnership with the annual Arts Festival to bring more excitement to the heart of Johor Baru.

A version of this article was published in The New Straits Times, Johor Streets in May 2011


If you missed this exciting show, there's still an opportunity to see Dodo perform his amazing feats again when he is featured "live" at Tan Hiok Nee Cultural Street this coming weekend.  Make a date with him this Saturday, 21 January 2012 and be there before 8pm.  Happy Chinese New Year of the Dragon!


1 comment:

  1. Very informative and well written.