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The face of creativity

ARTURO Brachetti dazzles spectators with his ability to change faces in seconds and the result is like a film that comes to life, writes Michelle Zhang.

Faces change, but can you change your face? Arturo Brachetti can. And he's going to prove it tonight at Shanghai Oriental Art Center with the Chinese premiere of his show "The Man of a Thousand Faces."

During the 90-minute show, the Italian artist will perform more than 70 characters of which he says some you know while others you only imagine. In the blink of a second he becomes Charlie Chaplin, James Bond, Snow White or even a Chinese man dressed in a Qing Dynasty (1644-1911) outfit.

"Everything in the world can be improved," says the Guinness world record holder for quick-change artists. "I'm inspired and influenced by movies, music and fancy characters. One of the greatest things about the show is that it is one of a kind. You need to see it to experience it."

The show is a spectacle of lighting, sound and sets. It includes magic, costume changes, impersonations and comedy. Brachetti uses a large case that opens in various ways to create new scenes that match his transformations.

"It's like a movie that becomes reality," he says. "There is a combination of classical and contemporary themes. For example, my hat routine is almost four centuries old."

Hailed by critics and audiences around the world as the greatest quick-change performer today, Brachetti often leaves spectators mystified as he changes costumes in just a few seconds. He simply throws a sheet up and by the time it falls, he's already become someone else.

The show debuted in Montreal, Canada, during the Just for Laughs festival in 1999. It won a Moliere Award in Paris and then a Canadian Olivier Award in 2000. After 700 sold-out performances in Paris, the show went on tour in French-speaking countries, Germany and a few cities in the United States.

"I do not change the show or my characters for the location of a performance," he says. "This is a very Italian show, and as such everything will be new and exciting for the Chinese people.

"Because the show is 10 years old, we have had time to cut and paste and keep the best of the best," he continues, when asked if he has ever met any bottlenecks or barriers during the process of creation. "I always stop and try to find the best solution for my characters, and I handle the difficult creative process by being patient."

There is a Chinese saying that goes: "According to one's performance at the age of three, you can predict the person's future."

Brachetti, however, says he doesn't necessarily believe that's true.

"I was born into a very poor family, and I'm the only artist of the family," says the 51-year-old. "I used to be a shy child full of fantasy, but that's very normal. When I was six, my grandparents asked me what I wanted to be when I grew up. I said I wanted to be either a director or the Pope."

At that time, the young boy frequented a seminary, where he met a young priest who had a room filled with books and tools about magic tricks. Starting as his assistant, young Brachetti gradually learned many magic tricks.

"I was very bad at football, which is almost a crime in Italy," he says with a laugh. "So I rescued my reputation by doing magic tricks."

Wearing costumes borrowed from the seminary's theater, Brachetti invented and performed his first quick-change act at the age of 15.

"I was a shy boy and wanted to perform magic, but didn't have the courage to go on stage, so I started wearing costumes," he says. "I felt the need to put something else besides a magic trick in my show, such as a quick change.

"I consider magic as any other theatrical skill, like dancing or singing, and I use the tool for the sake of the story," he adds. "Magic for magic's sake is sterile."

In 1979, Brachetti left his hometown of Turin and moved to Paris, where he started his professional career in a Parisian cabaret. One year later "it dawned upon me that I was realizing all my dreams," he says.

"As a child I dreamed of working in Paris, and there I was doing exactly that. I then began to create and follow other dreams to present my own show. You always have to have dreams to follow."

In 1994, he starred in the musical "Fregoli," directed by Saverio Marconi. It was a critical and commercial success as more than 280,000 tickets were sold over its run. It also won the Biglietto D'oro (Golden Ticket Award) for being the best-selling show in a season.

It was followed by "Brachetti in Technicolor" in which he essayed more than 60 classic Hollywood characters. More than 250,000 spectators saw the show between 1996 and 1998.

He returned to the Italian theater in 1999 and adapted Shakespeare's "A Midsummer's Night Dream" through contemporary dance. He has also performed a serious role in Stravinsky's opera "L'Histoire du Soldat."

"There are many qualities that are involved in being a successful performer," he concludes. "You must be natural, charismatic, and yet also be humble enough to keep learning new things year after year in order to offer something new to the public."

Date: January 16-17, 20-23, 27-31, 7:30pm; January 17, 22-24, 31, 1:30pm; January 18, February 1, 5pm

Venue: Shanghai Oriental Art Center, 425 Dingxiang Rd, Pudong

Tickets: 80-1,500 yuan

Tel: 962-388, 6854-1234


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