Sunday, April 26, 2009

东宫西宫 "East Palace West Palace", video of the performance and some words about Censorship in Chinese Art.

The 三枝橘制作 Théâtre des trois oranges’s performance 东宫西宫 "East Palace, West Palace" in Beijing in January 2009 brought with itself a common attitude within Chinese government, censorship.

China has always had a cultural policy focused on maintaining what for centuries has been called "the health and harmony of the Chinese people", even if those vague words have been interpreted in many different ways in their vaunted 5000 years of civilization, it is certain that Chinese artists have never enjoyed creative freedom until they started leaving their country since the mid-twentieth century. So whoever decides to become a creator in mainland China should then take the consequences of it and act in accordance to it; examples of this are the notes and stories, some of them painful, of dozens of writers and film directors, from which some work had gained recognition abroad while the Chinese government reacted by banning and censoring the artist for two, three or ten years because they believed that the artwork in question was a detrimental act to the image of China or the Chinese abroad and / or jeopardized the health and harmony of the Chinese people.

The day of the second premiere (the work premiered in this company's version in 2006) of 东宫西宫 "East Palace, West Palace," there was a confusion among people who had been invited, as they were being told at the theater (either by phone or at the ticket booth) that the play would not be presented and that that night the play on stage would be 火车带我去哪里, which would mean something like "Where does the train take me? ", another Chinese play. Given the strangeness of the situation, I decided to corroborate with Xavier Froment, the play's and company's director, and with a nice phrase in a text message from his mobile phone he clarified that the play would be performed that day as planned but without the actual name, as the censors (Xavier calls them "the government") had decided that it was not an appropriate subject and the piece should not appear on file as "performed." So the play was shown in the theater but under a different name (though I'm not clear whether it was to satisfy a command from the government representatives or if the play was actually being hidden from them). What is clear is that we did get tickets with the real name of the piece and that these tickets were immediately disposed of so that there would be no trace of this representation (1). The photos below show some of that confusion.

东宫西宫 "East Palace, West Palace" is a piece written by playwright Wang Xiaobo in the 1990s and talks about a sadomasochistic homosexual relationship between a policeman and a man who seeks sex in park bathrooms near Tian'anmen Square. The piece was made famous by a movie of the same name (1996) and that caused the director to find himself under house arrest and banned from creating for several years by the Chinese government (2) . I am not sure if the version of Trois Oranges is based on the film or the original text of Wang Xiaobo.

I understand that the censors do not visit the staging of the plays before reading a synopsis of the play or of the staging; in this case they did not need anything else but the name of the work to recognize it in its list of forbidden works. However, whether because of bureaucratic inertia or simply because they left it for the last moment and wanted to wash their hands someone proposed renaming the play.

Photographs of 东宫西宫 "East Palace, West Palace" (Beijing. January, 2009)
Note: If you have any problems viewing this set of slides, please click the link in the box and that will take you to the my Picasa homepage, where the photos are.

东宫西宫 "East Palace, West Palace" is an interesting and courageous play in the context of current Chinese Theater (and the history of film that is behind it); there are no nude scenes but there are clear sex scenes between men and a very clear homosexual sadomasochistic choreography, the texts are clear and hard about the words and phrases used, containing much slang used by Beijing's homosexuals. I already recognize a characteristic of director Xavier Froment's actors and their performance: an apparent bodily passivity, avoiding the traditional excesses of Chinese realistic performances, the actors seem to move in a very defined choreography, having most of the time clear and specific tasks to carry on stage and thus avoiding any game of improvisation. The images on stage, another crucial point in Froment, require a great deal of preparatory work on stage and, when they become defined, their climax shows strength and an overall penetration in the viewer. I can recall that in an exchange of phrases of almost five minutes, the police officer (acted by Kang Luqi) is tying a large rope around his counterpart, but that action has no direct relation to the text, only at the end of the text, in a violent and emotional moment does the preparation make sense (you can see the images both in the video and in the photographs). The final scene takes us to the passion unleashed by the police; him, who had not accepted the game and seductive ways of the man of the bathrooms, exploits and literally rapes the man ad nauseam.

Through my years of living in China I've learned that even when not written into law there are dozens of bans in the Chinese scene: it is forbidden to portray explicit sex, nudity, foul words, religious issues, political issues, to mention the current government, to address social issues, issues of general interest at the moment, scandalous issues, and a long list of etceteras. I've learned that it is better to stage pieces on the "accepted" list (that nobody seems to knows fully), which are generally called classical, before deciding to stage or create any new work. I also learned that street theater does not exist in its modern sense and is simply not done. I learned that in the world of art you can expect anything and you have to engage in a guessing game of what is acceptable or not, what is the trend and what not, what is the future I want for me and family and even colleagues and what not. The backlash to the "attacks" to the health and harmony of the Chinese people can be devastating to the creative (and biological life) of any Chinese artist.

I remember having witnessed several acts of this kind. Just after coming to Beijing in 2005 a gay-lesbian film festival that was going to take place in the industrial-arts Dashanzi 798, back then still an area of alternative art, was suspended; in 2007 a fair for practitioners Tattoo Artists and tattooed people was suspended after just one successful day, after the media had shown what must have been too many out of the ordinary people in a Chinese cultural space, the excuse for its cancellation was that the site could not support the number of visitors; in 2006 and 2007, two performative events were suspended by the police, a group of young people who wanted to surprise people on the street by giving hugs and affection, and an Irish dance group that had planned to do an improvisation at the Wangfujing shopping street.

The case closer to me (because it included a Mexican artist) was at the 2008 Biennial of Art in Beijing, which included several Mexican artists (I'll omit mentioning them). One of them was forced to erase part of his work to avoid being expelled from the biennial and the country (3). His work consisted of a triptych with images of men hanging after an apparent execution, and on the three sections the declaration of human rights was written in Chinese. We were one month away from the Olympic Games and it seemed everything that seemed critical of policies was extremely sensitive for the Chinese government. I am not sure how negotiations took place, but it is certain that there negotiations and Mexican representatives (including the cultural counselor of the Embassy of Mexico in China) were there, but in the end the outcome was what at the time felt to me (and it still feels so) like a humiliation for artists, art and Mexican art in general: the Mexican painter "erased" the text in Chinese in exchange for a stay at the Biennale (what did they tell him? what made him lose respect for his work?). I understand that he asked that this deletion (with white paint) were made by a relative of someone killed in Tian'anmen; I don't know whether they complied, but the act of "erasing" was completed, and I saw the work, the white splotches were there over not so clear Chinese characters and, what can I say? the piece had lost all moral and aesthetic value. The piece took on a new context is true, but the act was, is and remains a disgrace.

东宫西宫 "East Palace, West Palace" is another example of the censorship game in China and 三枝橘制作 Théâtre des trois oranges are used to it. The play took place and we enjoyed it, with a different context, even though I think the space was not the best for it. We enjoyed the performances of its two actors, which I still deem as having a strange monotony ... along with the feeling I get from hearing Chinese on stage, and we also enjoyed the images, but even more the courage to continue making a free theater in Chinese and with Chinese under these conditions.

Video 1: 东宫西宫 "East Palace, West Palace” (Part one)
"East Palace West palace" (Part 1) A Théâtre des Trois Oranges production in Beijing. By Gustavo Thomas
View in HD Download 720p HD Version Visit Gustavo Thomas's ExposureRoom Videos Page

Video 2: 东宫西宫 "East Palace, West Palace” (Second part)
"East Palace West palace" (Part 2) A Théâtre des Trois Oranges production in Beijing. By Gustavo Thomas
View in HD Download 720p HD Version Visit Gustavo Thomas's ExposureRoom Videos Page

Video 3: 东宫西宫 "East Palace, West Palace” (Third part)
"East Palace West palace" (Part 3) A Théâtre des Trois Oranges production in Beijing. By Gustavo Thomas
View in HD Download 720p HD Version Visit Gustavo Thomas's ExposureRoom Videos Page

Final comments...

I could not remove from my memory an interview that the BBC did with the Chinese writer, Liao Yiwu, who started creating again after 4 years' imprisonment and continuous censorship of his work for years because of his writings full of pain and fury, writings related to the 1989 events of Tian'anmen Square (4). Him, in an extremely passive and detached manner spoke of having turned towards spirituality and forgetting hatred, rebellion and passion, and of how now, with a tinge of wisdom, he prefers to engage in playing the flute, which he learned to play while in prison, and in trying to get his writings read and keeping them from being destroyed. When the interviewer, at the end of the interview, asked him to expose his thinking as a way of ending the program, he chose to play the flute instead of speaking. I heard this music as a metaphor for impotence, as the tragic end of someone who has been defeated by the universal power of the state and its censorship, someone who awaits enlightenment as a defeated hero.

Liao Yiwu was a dumb playing the flute to keep talking.

(1) As a curiosity, on the internet I found the diary of someone in China who mentioned the event in his internet diary (I advise you to copy the text in Chinese and use the Google translator to read it in English):

衙 役个子很高不是重点;他身长九尺,有着紫色的头发和金黄色的眼睛,这也不是重点。他抓到女贼后没有送交官府,没有放她自由,而是做了第三个选择。他要了 她,从此以后把她铐在柱子上,据为己有。她喜欢这样的选择,白天,她就画眉施粉等待他回来,为了晚上他能够更加爱她。花容月貌在脂粉与时间中渐渐流逝,最 后变成残花败柳。但这又怎样呢。觉得爱,那么就去爱吧。
东 宫西宫在表演上很大胆。对SM了解一些的人会看到更多东西。。我第一次知道原来话剧的视觉效果也可以这么厉害。而话剧想表达的感觉,最后也在久久不息的掌 声中得到了肯定。我忘不了阿兰的眼睛。黑暗里依然闪烁如星光。他那么忠实于自己的感觉,不管目光,不管伦理,甚至不管自己的伤痛与毁灭。下贱与尊严都需要 被重新定义。灯光瞬间转换,突然映出阿兰血红的长衫。疯狂的做爱。
散场后,我正在预订下一次的演出门票,人走的已经差不多了,一回头突然看见那三 位话剧演员,和热情的观众一起留影。他眼睛依然那么明亮。那个时候我真的很想去问,为什么要选择这样少数派的题材。接受者虽不少也终究有限,限制又多。这 条路,会辛苦吧。。也正是这样,才尤为珍贵。爱极了阿兰,台上的阿兰,台下的阿兰,阿兰可能是你,可能是我,也可能是他."
(2) "East Palace, West Palace is a remarkable film. In 1997 the Chinese government put its director, Yuan Zhang, under house arrest and confiscated his passport. His friends smuggled the movie out of the country so that it could be shown at the 1997 Cannes film festival. We are at once talking of a film with political and artistic implications. The movie is tightly focused on a nightlong interrogation of a gay man, detained in a public park by a policeman. The political ramifications are clear, implying not only a broader indictment of the repressive regime in China, but also addressing the issue of intolerance of human differences everywhere. On the more personal level, East Palace, West Palace explores with unexpected sophistication and intimacy the expression of emotional and sexual feelings through the personal history related by the protagonist, even as he seduces his captor. Beautiful camerawork, top notch acting, and wonderful use of sound, music, and interposed theatrical images combine to make this a revealing, touching, and convincing exposition on the complexities of love.It seems only fair to alert potential viewers that the pacing is slow as the film gradually builds in intensity. Patience is required, but it is also generously rewarded." Arthur Lazere.
(3) If you go to the part of the Biennale's website with the Mexican pieces (translating from Chinese using Google's Translator), we discover that the works of the Mexican artists cannot seen (at least on Chinese servers, from where I access the site) even though one of the Mexicans, Javier Marín, was one of the winners of the exhibition. Here is the link to the pages of works by the artists:
(4) You can see the full interview on the website of the BBC:

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Concurso Hispanoamericano de Dramaturgia

I received an e-mail from Luis Alejandro Simon, director of the Club de Teatro "Barbara Simon" informing that, to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the Inter-American Development Bank (the institution that owns the club) promotes a drama contest in Spanish and English. Here is the text that he sent to me (in Spanish the original):

El Club de Teatro "Bárbara Simon" de la Asociación de Empleados del Banco Interamericano de Desarrollo (BID) festeja el Cincuenta Aniversario de esta Institución con el lanzamiento del "Concurso Hispanoamericano de Dramaturgia".

Este evento reparte entre sus ganadores, US$ 17.000 en efectivo más un impactante paquete de premios especiales.
Les invito a leer las bases del concurso en nuestra página web:

Adjunto al presente el afiche del Concurso, agradeciendo sinceramente su difusión.
Su gestión será de vital importancia para acercar esta convocatoria a los dramaturgos chinos o a los dramaturgos hispanoamericanos que viven en China. Esperamos que esta propuesta sirva de estímulo para abrirles el camino a una carrera internacional y les brinde nuevas oportunidades de desarrollo artístico.

( ... )

Le agradezco por anticipado ayudarnos a difundir nuestro Concurso en China.

Luis Alejandro Simón
Director General
Club de Teatro"Bárbara Simon"

Asociación de Empleados del BID

1300 New York Ave. N.W Washington, D.C 20577 - USA "

I visited the site, (everyone can access to it), copied part of the main text and posted it here (also in Spanish the original):

Concurso Hispanoamericano de Dramaturgia

En Celebración del
Cincuenta Aniversario del BID

El Club de Teatro “Bárbara Simon” de la Asociación de Empleados del Banco Interamericano de Desarrollo (BID), convoca a los autores teatrales a participar del Concurso Hispanoamericano de Dramaturgia en celebración del Cincuenta Aniversario del BID. La Asociación de Empleados del BID es un organismo representativo de los empleados, que entre otras finalidades, promueve el bienestar de los empleados a través de actividades sociales, culturales, de deportes o recreacionales.

Los dramaturgos contemporáneos hispanoamericanos tienen por delante un arduo camino para convencer a los teatros de la posibilidad de estrenar sus piezas teatrales y es aquí donde los concursos literarios desempeñan un papel fundamental: avalar la calidad de un dramaturgo y abrir así una oportunidad que eventualmente impulsará su carrera artística. El público tendrá entonces la última palabra y decidirá el destino de su obra, mediante su aceptación o su rechazo. Pero para llegar a abrir el telón, los concursos constituyen en nuestros días una gran puerta que conduce a un dramaturgo al escenario.

Para participar de este concurso los autores podrán escoger una de las siguientes categorías:

  1. Gran Comedia Hispanoamericana para un mínimo de siete personajes (Escrita en español)
  2. Hispanos en USA, but sin estereotipos (Escrita en español, inglés o spanglish).
  3. Teatro Infantil (Escrita en español)

Podrán participar del Concurso los ciudadanos nativos o extranjeros que cuenten con más de cinco años de residencia comprobable en cualquiera de los países miembros del BID:

Alemania, Argentina, Austria, Bahamas, Barbados, Bélgica, Belice, Bolivia, Brasil, Canadá, Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, Croacia, Dinamarca, Ecuador, El Salvador, Eslovenia, España, Estados Unidos, Finlandia, Francia, Guatemala, Guyana, Haití, Holanda, Honduras, Israel, Italia, Jamaica, Japón, México, Nicaragua, Noruega, Panamá, Paraguay, Perú, Portugal, Reino Unido, República de Corea, República Dominicana, República Popular de China, Suecia, Suiza, Suriname, Trinidad y Tobago, Uruguay y Venezuela.

Las obras presentadas no tendrán limitaciones de propuestas estéticas y deberán ser originales (no adaptaciones), inéditas, no estrenadas, no haber sido premiadas anteriormente, ni escenificadas con anterioridad en ningún país, ni tampoco podrán estar participando en procesos de selección de ningún otro concurso durante el periodo de tiempo comprendido desde el comienzo de la fase de selección hasta el fallo de premiación de este concurso.

El jurado seleccionará 4 ganadores por categoría otorgando premios por la cantidad total de US$ 17.000 en efectivo que se suman al siguiente paquete de premios especiales:

  1. El Club de Teatro “Bárbara Simon” representará la obra ganadora de la categoría “Gran Comedia Hispanoamericana para un mínimo de siete personajes” en el Auditorio Enrique Iglesias (EVI) del Banco Interamericano de Desarrollo (BID) en Washington, D.C., durante su temporada teatral 2010/2011.
  2. El ganador del primer premio de la categoría “Gran Comedia Hispanoamericana para un mínimo de siete personajes” viajará a Washington, D.C. con los gastos de viaje y alojamiento pagados para estar presente en el estreno mundial de su obra.
  3. El Club de Teatro “Bárbara Simon” publicará en 2011 una selección de las 10 mejores obras del Concurso (ver detalles en Bases). La publicación será posteriormente distribuida a teatros y bibliotecas de Hispanoamérica que determine el Club de Teatro.
  4. El Thalia Spanish Theatre (Nueva York) representará la obra ganadora de la categoría "Hispanos en USA but sin estereotipos" en Estreno Mundial en producción bilingüe durante su temporada teatral 2010/2011.
  5. La Sociedad Educativa de las Artes Inc., SEA (Nueva York) seleccionará una de las obras ganadoras de la categoría “Teatro Infantil” para ser representada durante su temporada teatral 2010/2011.
  6. El Teatro GALA, a través de su programa infantil GALITA (Washington, D.C.) seleccionará una de las obras ganadoras de la categoría “Teatro Infantil” para ser representada durante su temporada teatral 2010/2011.

La convocatoria se abrirá el 1 de abril de 2009 y concluirá el 1 de septiembre de 2009.

Las obras deberán enviarse, por duplicado a:

Luis Simón
Director Ejecutivo
Concurso Hispanoamericano de Dramaturgia
Asociación de Empleados del BID
1350 New York Ave. N.W – Stop B-0670
Washington D.C. – 20577 -USA

Auspician este concurso: Banco Interamericano de Desarrollo (BID); Asociación de Empleados del BID; Asociación de Familias del BID; Centro Español de Washington, D.C.; Embajada de España en Estados Unidos; Embajada de Venezuela en Estados Unidos; Embajada de Uruguay en Estados Unidos; Telemundo; Centro Dramático Nacional (Ministerio de Cultura, España); Thalia Spanish Theatre; Teatro GALA y la Sociedad Educativa de las Artes Inc. (SEA) y el Ministerio de Cultura de Guatemala.
Solo serán aceptadas aquellas obras que cumplan todos los requisitos detallados en las bases del Concurso.

Documento en Español (PDF)

Abr 1 - Sep 1

Enviar Obras a:
Luis Simón
Director Ejecutivo
Concurso Hispanoamericano de Dramaturgia
Asociación de Empleados del BID
1350 New York Ave NW
Stop B-0670
Washington, DC 20577

Ana Nuchowich
Productora General
No se aceptarán consultas telefónicas de ningún tipo, ni se recibirán obras enviadas por correo electrónico.

Monday, April 20, 2009

A Shadow Puppet Exibition at China Art National Museum (2007)

Thanks to Picasa (and other Internet sites) now is possible to publish Slideshows of any groups of photographs without a problem of space in the Blog, so I decided to retake some important events and dedicate some posts especially for showing the whole group of photographs I took of them.

You already have seen a Slideshow of "Tenjin Matsuri Festival" in Osaka in 2006, and this time I want to show more photogrpahs from this shadow puppet exhibition ocurred in 2007. The post referred to it was published on August 15th, 2007:

This was a very special exhibition in China, for first time there were showed in one place such amount of Puppets from the last two dinasties and from all over China.

if the photographs are not well displayed just click on the window and you will be redirected to the Picasa page.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

4 Days of Monlam Festival (Tibetan New Year). Day 2: Displaying Of The Thangka Ceremony at Rongwu Monastery.

Note: See the introduction to this series about the Amdo Monlam Festival in the post of March 20th, 2009.

Day 2.

Displaying of the Thangka Ceremony at Rongwu Monstery.

Slideshow: Displaying of the Thangka at Rongwu Monstery.
Click inside the box if you can’t see the photographs properly, you will be redirected to a Picasa page.

Rongwu Monastery is the largest in Tongren, it has several small temples and chapels and hundreds of monks living in it. The buildings vary in style and detail, from the purest traditional Tibetan to a Chinese-Tibetan mix that the Chinese government imposed as part of the "China-fication" of Tibetan areas. The monastery has small and big gates, and walls like an ancient city, and every temple is enclosed within its own walls and gates. There are streets, houses, shops, each one with their very characteristic Tibetan doors, with wood frames sculpted with dragons or birds and flowers. Everywhere we looked there were statues, thangkas on walls, mandalas paintings, banners, prayer cloths, large canvases covering some facades, drums hanging ... It seems all this was made with mud, stone, concrete, wood… dust.

The first night of my stay in Rongwu we wanted to give the temple a look and, with great surprise, we found that we could enter, visiting its temples, chapels, walking through its streets and squares. I saw girls who, as if they were playing, sang religious songs while walking, or sometimes while running, around one of the temples. I saw people arriving in small groups and disapperaing into the darkness of the walls and streets of the Monastery, they came in processions from their villages in the nearby hills, they repeated mantras, some also sang. In the silence of that religious town, among the shadows of the monks who were walking that night I heard the sound of Tibetan horns, those sounds of the trumpets used by Tibetan Buddhists that are rooted in our memory as a powerful sound of the eternal image of Tibet; those horn sounds represent the Tibetan mystery to us, curious Westerners, and in trying to reveal that mystery we can risk everything.

Live Audio of Tibetan horns during the night of March 7, 2009, Rongwu.

Two days after that first visit to the Monastery I experienced the Displaying of the Thangka Ceremony.

Narration of the event:
(Translation from Spanish by Tadeo Berjón)

The ceremony is known for the displaying of a gigantic Thangka, by every Tibetan monastery, once as year. The thangka is "removed" from the darkness of the chapel temple (where it is always kept rolled) and then, in a procession, carried to the nearest mountain and exposed to the Sunlight.

Me, as a person interested in performing arts and the spectacular, "needed" to experience the public exhibition of the great Thangka, that ceremony with a whole village participating. I wanted to see and explore the spectacular ritual of the unveiling of a huge religious symbol, and I also wanted to try to recognise the structure of the event and the performance of its actors. But I could not just be a scholar, in an event of this nature you cannot be just a spectator, even in the remoteness of the differences in cultures and beliefs, we inevitably fade into the same event and become part of the ritual.

On March 9, 2009 we were informed that the ceremony would begin at noon and we were at the scene at approximately 11 am so we wouldn't miss any detail. With the experience of the previous day at Niantog monastery, we were prepared for a long wait. But we didn't understand clearly that Niantog was a small monastery with a relatively small number of monks and therefore with less dramatic events in comparison to what we were going to live in Rongwu; the wait had been long because the number of monks was not sufficient for the act, there was less organization, and it was even less "official", as there were no VIP's to please. The importance and grandness of Rongwu in the Tongren area meant it would be one of the most important events of the year, and so it was.

Dozens upon dozens of monks came and went, appearing beautifully dressed and carrying many banners, musical instruments and gifts; within the main temple hundreds of them gathered to make their preparations. Virtually exactly at noon they split into groups and began to leave the main temple, performing a kind of presentation (or introduction?) for about an hour, forming several circles around the square, with around 300 monks. The groups differed in rank (recognizable to us through the strange color of their hats and apparel), musical instruments (horns, drums, cymbals and conches) and carrying banners (flags, images, and sunshades with mandalas and peacock feathers). Each in turn made their way to their assigned space within the circle around the main square, playing their instruments or simply walking, without much ceremonial attitude; the images and sounds were so powerful by themselves that, from my point of view, there was no need to see these groups of monks in a trance or with any kind of attitude. Once that procession, which apparently had a very definite structure in such rituals for Monlam, everyone began to leave in apparent anarchy.

In the square now empty of monks the people rushed in the direction of the main doors of the temple and a big commotion began, there was great excitement in the air. More groups of monks left the temple and stood so as to make and maintain a walkway from the entrance of the temple hall, though the path didn't last much because of the crowds around; then more monks came out of the temple, pulling a rope wrapped in a kind of white gauze, typically used in the religious Tibetan tradition. Dozens of monks pulled the endless rope that, in the midst of the religious excitement, revealed what was being carried: the Thangka.

The Thangka was rolled up and was carried by many dozens of monks; order vanished and everything appeared to be driven by the chaos of an event ranging from the religious to the pagan. The common people ran to touch the large roll, some fell or were pushed violently by the movement of the row of monks, songs or rhythmic phrases (if they were not singing) could be heard and we, the outsiders, did not realise when we lost all sense of spectator civility and propriety and ran along with them, we were pushed too, we were living a probably different excitement but our senses were as altered as those of the people who were living a very special religious moment.

Our guide, I should mention, a real expert in these events, kept trying to get us to the next stage of the procession, so we wouldn't miss any of the essential parts of it.

Outside the main temple there was people everywhere and the monastery itself was a city in carnival, living a striking but live religious ceremony. The rows of monks pulling the rope and those carrying the Thangka did their utmost to move through the crowd amid the chaos, their own sweat, their shouting, their red tunics and dust.

To follow the flow of the procession that carried the Thangka would have got us stuck in some narrow passage, so our guide cleverly led us around the monastery to try to anticipate the procession and the crowd that followed them, which is why I could take some shots that simply would have been impossible to achieve otherwise.

The procession took another hour to reach the space designated for the revealing of the big thangka, the mountainside that served as backdrop to the imposing Rongwu monastery. There, on the slope, several monks who had preceded the procession waited for those who carried the Thangka. Now we had an image of perhaps thousands of monks all the way from the main monastery's entrance to the top of the mountain.

The path of the procession was turning into a wonderful live performance, deeply emotional and brilliant. Among their songs and effort, their joy when linked to the euphoria, I could see a gathering of the passionate people of the region, looking for contact with the sacred object while paying their respects at the same time. I saw old people kneel, mothers with children crying in the arms falling down while trying to get their children's forehead to touch the rolled up Thangka, monks hitting their brethren to open up the way and dozens of men offering their hands to help pull.

We had to find a space at the foot of the mountain where we could live the moment of the unveiling, but also to achieve a good angle for shooting video, but electricity cables and a huge amount of people made the task very difficult. In the end, and having found a place at the foot of the mountain, between the movement and jostling of the crowd I found the spot from which I made my shots.

The experience of seeing this huge religious symbol being unveiled in the midst of the euphoria (screams, prayers, music, prostrations, joy) of a people is a thing I fear is impossible to share in its entirety. Once the unveiling began, the people began to "open" religiously, to "ask", to "offer" to "burn", to move everywhere (and so I had to do with my camera). I went back to listen to those songs of the Tibetan women, the high pitches so characteristic of them and that the women of this people are prepared to sing as religious song but, apparently, with ts origins in popular culture.

In that chaos-spectacle the ritual followed its course, several monks in a semi-circle purified items, received money, recited mantras, played trumpets. - "Time is short" - the guide told us, in a blink of an eye everything would end. The Thangka are revealed each year for some 30 minutes only.

Our guide dragged us to another part of the mountain, from where we could see the culmination of the ceremony. Several groups of monks were already on their way back in totally relaxed way, walking, playing, carrying their ritual objects as if worthless packages, all the while groups at the side of the mountain were preparing to re-roll the big canvas with the image of Buddha. Rows of men left back for the temple, rows of men left the area of the event, but many expected the final stage. The chants of the monks continued and among them the rolling up of the Tangka happened relatively quickly. The show had ended in no time. An empty space now adorned the mountain.

Nobody was interested anymore in that gigantic rolled-up Thangka, everything was over, as if that great roll did not have value anymore. No one was waiting for ts return, or at least none of those who had witnessed the unveiling on the mountain.

On our way back, some were waiting, at the doorway of the temple, for the ashes of what had been a few moments ago, I suppose.

Although I had had other experiences with "processions" (two years earlier at Osaka with the Tenjin Matsuri festival and the other one here at Niantog monastery with the Buddha Statue procession), the grandeur of the event had no comparison and I could only compare it with what I experiences when I saw La Fura Dels Baus. I have followed (by chance) La Fura around the world and have managed to see them several times in Mexico, once in Beirut and another time in Beijing, both in open air performances and in enclosed space (1). It is clear that I refer to the open-air performances when I make the comparison with the Tibetan ceremony which I had just witnessed. In the end, what I was seeing was a mass spectacle. The waiting, the continuous preparation before the spectators, the excitement caused by such preparations (movements of players, attachments, machines, etc) always in motion, their spectacular choreography, the open spaces, the movement of the public that never stops being a participant, the freedom as a spectator to talk, to scream, to be as exposed as the actors, this all was so similar to what I had experienced at the ceremonial unveiling of the Thangka in Rongwu. I always wonder at how the experience with La Fura has become a legend in my stage memory.


As I mentioned before (and as I like to emphasize) my interest in collecting this information and publish it on the web is purely documentary and is only to share my experience; even though I hope to improve or achieve a desired technical quality in my recordings, I accept that I have sacrificed all to make available the unique moments. I would like to be an educated photographer or to have a team with dozens of cameras filming everything, but too worry too much about that would make me lose the value of the very personal shots my videos of events and scenes offer. I avoid telling a story beyond the linear recounting of events, most of the time I use the actual sound during the shooting and keep the editing to a srict minimum to eliminate what becomes indistinguishable due to movement or error.

I think the best way to look at these documents is in a calm way and with a desire to explore, part by part, combining with the narrative of my experience. I do not want to replace your experience of going to the place and living a representational act of this kind. I want you to experience a little of what I saw that day, those hours. The rest, the stories, the creative videos, those are part of another part of my creative life.

(1) I have an entry on the visit of La Fura dels Baus in Beijing: It is a pity that I didn't take footage of any of their other presentations. Beirut was a huge surprise, especially knowing that the performance would arrive in a boat that had crossed the Mediterranean and that, once anchored at the port of Beirut, would offer a huge "ritual" with no religious reason. This is a video I found in with the same spectacle but in Portugal:

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Tenjin Matsuri Festival 2006 in Osaka. (A Slideshow)

This is a basic post dedicated to a Slideshow of 2006 Tenjin Matsuri Festival in Osaka, Japan. It is a religious origin but popular festival, dedicated to the city itself, to the river and the commercial activity around its water; the whole city population participate in many ways and during one day everyone in Osaka is linked a cause of this event.

I simply can't understand the reason why I did not write or publish anything about this event. Now, preparing my post about Monlam Festival (Tibetan new year), I had to recall such visit to Japan and the also interesting event Tenjin Matsuri Festival was for me.

It will come a written post of course, but in a while I wanted to share the Slideshow:

Sunday, April 5, 2009

An Interview with Guadalupe Durón (Part 2): Element Air, an exercise.

Second post on the interview I conducted with Guadalupe Durón in Mexico City’s Historic Center on December 28th, 2008 (See introduction to the interview at the post published on 02/02/2009).

I do not transcribe my questions to Durón (they were simply invitations to speak about the method and about his experience with the teachings of Antonio González Caballero), I preferred to present only the actor’s words. I consider these words as a testimony and a raw document; therefore, I did not edit the video nor looked for adding coherence to it. Beyond Duron’s colloquial speech and his unique way of using grammar, there is his personal experience as an actor, and in the swirl of phrases we can find some "keys" to understanding the González Caballero’s Acting Method.

Durón, with his peculiar style of narrating his experiences, brought back with memories of exercises with the "Elements" at González Caballero’s laboratory, this time narrating an exercise of the “Air Element” (Elemento Aire). The "Element" is one of the main (or basic) supports (apoyos) within the acting method.

Video: Guadalupe Durón, an experience during an exercise with Element Air (in Spanish).

Since Durón speaks in Spanish, Tadeo Berjón helped me to make a free translation of Duron's speech to English:

"I remember his exercises (referring to Gonzalez Caballero), one people criticised me a lot for because… I was fascinated by it, because it was about an element I liked a lot, Air ... Because it is very volatile, because even if it runs into a wall it goes up or down and spreads to the sides, and whatever.

"So, he guided us, … First, he used to say ...: -" Come on, concentrate "- blah, blah blah blah. And then he would start feeding us: -" OK, let's make this element "- Of course! at that time they were... we were, like, beginners, because those were pure elements (basic), and after then they were mixed, and blah blah blah.

"So, er, that time, I remember he gave us Air (the element). (He laughs) And then something very curious happened, I started feeling very agile; yes, and I don't know how, don't ask me. I was walking and moving all over the place because... it was an old house, where we did the exercises - we had had many working spaces, blah blah blah. And that time it was an old house, from the 20s or 30s maybe. - And then there was a big staircase, - well, when you compare it with what the make nowadays.

"Then, I remember I started to feel very very light, and the teacher says: -" OK, now the wind in the desert; OK, now the wind is in the mountains; OK, now the wind is in a field, in the plains,... No it's like this, now it's like that..." - then we would respond to these impulses (indications) that he would give, so I ended up crazy afterwards, and I and I don't know ... There was a little column at the base of the stairs, very small, about 30 centimetres tall, whatever. To follow the banister then ... don't ask me how but suddenly I was... as it no longer had ... these stairs, how do you call it?, (these) little columns used to have a lamp, a carved figure on top, and there were none. Well, I ended up on those thirty centimetres, standing, pretending to be a statue, and it felt wonderful.

"Afterwards ... (he laughs) ... er..., I had fun because they said: -" Ah, ah, ah, that's what you always do! You want to be very volatile, you this and you that ..."- But no, personal volatility is one, that is, yes, I can, you know, run or walk or feel or do, but me, me! When you are given an element on purpose to work with, then no. The body's position changes, the mind changes, you do things that ... Like that with the little column, I mean, me, when! I have always suffered from (bad) balance, I mean, I can not play like the children on the rails of the railways or on the borders of ... of partitions. I've always been very awkward at doing that, and I was wondering: (he smiles) - "How the hell did I get onto those thirty centimeters and I didn't fall, if I have a lousy balance?" - Now, they say that having a lousy balance on scene is fantastic, as you can do what you want to.

"But I was surprised to have ended up on that small space and not fall, why? because the quality of the element, whichever they may be, fire, earth, air, water... it encourages imagination and you are something else; you're not... er... what you normally are! you change!, through the power of imagination, I mean, because it's a stimulus that although we are made from all the elements, when one of them predominates then you become someone else. That's that, as simple as that. "

Guadalupe Durón's original speech in Spanish:

"Recuerdo sobre sus ejercicios (en referencia a González Caballero) uno que me fue muy criticado porque a mí me fascinaba mucho, porque era sobre un elemento que a mí me gusta mucho, el aire, ...porque es muy volátil, porque aunque encuentre un muro sube o baja y se dispersa a los lados, y quien sabe qué.

"Entonces el guiaba,... primero nos ponía: -”A ver, concéntrense”-, blah, blah blah blah. Y luego nos empezaba a alimentar: -”A ver, vamos a hacer este elemento”- ¡Claro!, en aquél tiempo eran..., como éramos principiantes, pues eran elementos puros (básicos), luego ya se mezclan, y blah blah blah.

"Entonces, eh, esa vez, me acuerdo que nos dió el (elemento) Aire. (Ríe) Y entonces se dió algo muy curioso, yo me empecé a sentir muy ágil; sí, y no sé cómo, no me pregunten. Anduve desplazándome por todo el lugar, porque... Era una casa antigua donde hacíamos los ejercicios, -porque tuvimos varias sedes, blah, blah, blah. Y esa vez me tocó en una casa que era vieja, de los 20s o 30s quizá.- Y entonces había una escalera muy grande, -bueno, grande en base a las que se hacen ahora-.

"Entonces, recuerdo que empecé a sentirme ligero, ligero, ligero, y el maestro: -”A ver, el viento ahora está en el desierto; a ver, ahora el viento está en la montaña; a ver, ahora el viento está en un campo, en un llano,... Ahora está así y asá.”- Entonces iba uno repondiendo a esos impulsos (indicaciones) que él le daba a uno, de tal manera que yo terminé enloquecido después, y no sé,... Había una columnita en la base de la escalera, muy pequeña, como de unos 30 centímetros, y no se qué. Para seguir por el barandal entonces..., no me pregunten cómo pero de repente yo estaba... como ya no tenía..., Estas escaleras, ¿cómo se llama?, (estas) columnitas solían tener una lámpara, una figura esculpida ahí encima, y aquí no había. Pues yo terminé en esos treinta centímetros, parado, haciéndola de estatuita, y me sentía maravillosamente.

"Después... (Ríe) este..., me divertía mucho porque decían: -"Ah, ah, ah, ¡eso es lo que haces siempre! Tú quieres ser muy volatil, tú quien sabe que...”- Pero no, la volatilidad personal es una, o sea, sí, yo puedo, yo que sé, caminar o correr o sentirme o hacer, pero yo, ¡yo! Cuando le dan a propósito un elemento que debe trabajar, entonces no. La posición del cuerpo cambia, la mente cambia, hace uno cosas que... Como eso de la columnita, o sea, yo ¿cuándo? Yo siempre he padecido de (mal) equilibrio, o sea yo no puedo estar como juegan los niñitos, en los rieles de los ferrocarriles o en las orillitas de los... de los tabiques. Yo siempre he sido muy torpe para eso; y yo me preguntaba: (sonríe) -“¿cómo rayos llegué a estos treinta centímetros y no me caí, si tengo un pésimo equlibro?”- Ahora dicen que eso de tener un pésimo equilibro en escena es fantástico, como puedes hacer lo que se te de la gana.

"Pero yo sí me asombraba de haber terminado en ese espacio tan pequeño y no caerme, ¿por qué? Porque la cualidad del elemento, cualquiera que ellos sean, el fuego, la tierra, el aire, el agua,... estimula la imaginación y uno es otra cosa; no es... eh... ¡lo que uno es normalmente!, ¡cambia!, por el poder de la imaginación, o sea, porque es un estímulo que si bien estamos formados por todos los elementos, cuando predomina uno entonces uno se vuelve otro. Eso es, así de simple."

Video en Guadalupe Durón habland0 sobre un ejercicio del elemento Aire.

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