Monday, August 24, 2009

4 Days of Monlam Festival (Tibetan New Year). Day 4: Cham Dance-Drama at Rongwu Monastery. Part 2, Beginning of the dance.

Note: See the introduction to this series about the Monlam Festival in Tongren, China on the March 20th, 2009 post: "4 Days of Monlam Festival (Tibetan New Year). Day 1: Procession of the Buddha Maitreya at Niantog Monastery".

Day 4Cham Dance-Drama at Rongwu Monstery.

Narration of the second part: Beginning of the Dance.
Read the introduction to this 4th day, see a video and read the preliminary story of the Cham dance at my July 3rd 2009 post.
The horns had sounded on the roof but also inside the temple. Monks began to leave the temple in their (now for us) common presentation, but this time there were only those who were going to participate in the dance, around one hundred, and the others remained inside or left the temple from behind and came back later as mere spectators.

The first to appear were three monks carrying two horns, carried on the front only by one, while the other two were holding the other extreme and playing them. A very curious and fascinating image. As expected the first monk placed the horn’s “mouth” on the pedestal of the skeletons, while the others continued playing. Behind them came some major monks with bells, and then all the other instruments, dozens of drums and cymbals.

Playing their instruments (in what would become in its monotony the only sound during all the performance) those monks musicians took their place where we Westerners would call "stage", exactly in front of the temple's main entrance. Their faces were looking toward us, so it seemed that the main space of the dance was where “the chorus work”, down the stairs, inside the circles marked in the square; of course I was using my imagination before anything happened. In reality they used both spaces, the stage in front of the temple and the big circle in the square, as any other religious theatre would do it.

Two figures in special costumes emerged from the temple. These two men gave the impression of being two "happy" skulls or "very much alive" dead men; they were wearing skull masks very similar to that image of "death enlightened" that I described in my last post (preliminaries of the dance), with the same flame over their crown and bow-shaped ears, their clothes oddly similar to a kind of harlequin costume, with horizontal stripes of colored cloth and some ruffles.

While I was just watching their movements, I discovered that there was no special physical preparation, technically speaking, so I did not expect wonders, nor amazing acrobatic jumps nor breathtaking aesthetic movements. The ritual here was still more important, the aesthetic result was an aggregate of our culture, yet not in theirs; what they were doing there had a specific religious purpose, they were not expecting our approval, they were not expecting a round of applause.In their very simple choreography those happy skeletons carried a wooden triangle and placed it on the central platform, that with the picture of a man with the opened body. That little wooden triangle contained some unidentifiable objects (from my position), objects that in later parts of the performance would become very important. The characters continued their movements-choreography, this time as if it would mark a space around the platform, with various crossings between them and surrounding it; at the the end of that part they literally went running into the temple.Once the dancing was over, the music marked a kind of rhythmic change by adding only the sounds of the horns; that was for a minute or two, and nothing else happened. Then came the first demon accompanied with the music of cymbals: with an imposing mask with horns that had flames on their ends, with crowns of flames on his head;an animal nose, an animal jaw, thick hair and a long black beard; wearing a colorful costume, made from fabrics and ribbons, with ties of different colors, a golden scepter or maybe an arm in his hand. His entrance was in a circular choreography, jumping at the same point but alternating legs, always dancing to the rhythm of cymbals.The entry of the demon seems of utmost importance, presenting an event that would trigger the whole future story: stopped by five of the leading monks, dressed in their stunning costumes and armed with a stick of incense and a dry rod, the demon was obliged to make its movements on the stage up the stairs, at the same level of the musicians; each of these movements was a kind of attack, like wanting to push and with what I can call climax and anticlimax, rising and lowering in level and in intensity, almost crouching in his circular movement or getting up to attack, while the monks stood impassively before him, blocking his pass to the main circle.

Apparently the dance attack by the demon was stronger than the intent to block of the monks; they opened the way and the demon could pass through; the music changed using both horns and drums, it was the end of the fighting and there was a climax. I cannot say that the demon defeated the monks, there were no evident actions or gestures on their part, they only changed their positions and performed their movements almost in an automatic displacement moving out to the first circle (the one drawn before the performance) in front of the spectators.A procession of dancing demons came out from the temple, 15 or 20 of them, all in pairs, and each one differently dressed and masked, each with their own additaments, with their own character attributes, some with swords, some with rosaries, others with knives, others with canes. The new dance had the same repetitive and circular line of movements, round and toward the vast space of the temple’s square.

I was totally fascinated, inevitably I got lost (forgetting the dance) because I was amazed seeing the brightness and colors of their costumes, because I was trying to observe all of the attributed objects that each of them had in their hands, and of course because of those wooden masks with their impressive features: faces of birds, animals and fantastic creatures, heavy masks with lots of hair, fabric and objects attached to them. Such color, such visual spectacle with so many dancers were a real pleasure for my eyes. Yes, I was totally fascinated and so too were the other foreigner spectators that day; as for the Tibetan people from Repkong I would not know, they watched attentively, but talked a lot among themselves, eating and moving from one place to another.

Video: Second part of Cham dance performance at Rongwu Monastery. February 9, 2009.

(Part 2) Tibetan Cham Dance Performance at Rongwu Monastery: Beginning. from Gustavo Thomas on Vimeo.

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Friday, August 14, 2009

Theatre Festival in Chillán, Chile. Calling all theatre groups...

Just received an e-mail calling all theatre groups to participate in this festival in Chile (sorry all written in Spanish):



La Compañía Teatral “Temachi” ; les invitan a participar de la XV versión de Entepach 2010 (Encuentro de Teatro para Chillán); a realizarse en la ciudad de Chillán, Chile, del 21 al 26 de enero de 2010.


Generar un foco de encuentro artístico cultural que pueda acoger a diversidad de artistas de la escena local e internacional como espacio en el que se pueda reflexionar acerca de los espectáculos teatrales tanto de Chile como de Latinoamérica y Europa.

chile_wht.gif (14381 bytes)


(archivo en doc.)

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Xavier Froment deported from China. Dictatorship doesn't like free artists.

Yesterday I received a mail from Xavier Froment, director of Théâtre de Trois Oranges, confirming what one of his colleague actors said to me about a month ago when I asked him about Xavier, who had not seen or heard from him in months (1):

Hello Gustavo,

I wanted to tell you that I've left China, and I won't go back anymore. After our play "East Palace, West Palace" in January, I had lots of troubles with Chinese police. In April they put me in jail because they said that I'm a danger for Chinese Republic. I was in jail from April until May 25th, and I was deported to France. I'm not allowed to go back to China anymore. So now I'm in Paris, and I will stay here. Next week I'm going to Austria for Salzburg Festival, and come back in September. Perhaps we will perform "East Palace, West Palace" in Paris. I'm looking for that in Paris.

Perhaps you will have the occasion to come to Paris, we can see again here!

See you,

Xavier Froment

The mail has left me in a kind of shock, I knew stories about imprisoned Chinese artists, but nothing about a foreign artist who I consider a friend. Since I met Xavier I followed his work because I was very interested by the fact that he was foreign stage director working in China with Chinese actors and wanted to make a professional career in the country. He loves China, and sought to live here, he learned the language very fast and started doing theatre in Chinese only after two years of living in Beijing. He never was a rebel artist, he did not want to bring down the dictatorial Chinese government, he simply staged what he liked and what he identified with as any other contemporary artist in the world.

The Chinese government hates free beings, it hates those who want to do what they want and say what they want, whether it is for or against China: "You must not take the initiative! You should not speak until I tell you! Show me your projects first and I'll tell you if they work or not, you are not capable of knowing what is good for China, I will tell you!"

I hate the Chinese government.

Xavier was imprisoned and reprimanded, scolded and punished for staging a homosexual-themed work, they called him a "danger to the Chinese Republic" ... And I wonder where the real danger lies.

I have expressed to Xavier my support. I know how much he was hurt by this expulsion and humiliation, by this abominable action. As a foreigner in China, and writing about what I see in Chinese performing arts I have played with the possibility of some retaliation by the Chinese government and at times I felt I was going too far. Today I know what they are capable of, today I know what I expose myself by keeping on writing my personal truth.

Xavier is an example of artistic freedom and courage, but also a living example of the existence of a power that is able to crush and humiliate, because that power makes the rules for everything. And this country will be the second power of a world without Cold war and it will influence on all sides by imposing ideas, actions at all costs to defend "the Republic of China."

Hide, ladies and gentlemen, that the big yellow ogre is opening its jaws!

(1) Have no idea why Xavier wrote this mail in English, even knowing I understand French.

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