Tibetan folk drama "Shambhala" enthralls Seoul audience

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August 4th 2014
Published: August 4th 2014
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The ethereal sound of Tibetan eagle flute reverberates inside Seoul's national theater. Several dancers in their traditional Tibetan attire jump, gyrate, rotate with their bare feet, and then form an eightfold lotus.

This modern Tibetan dance drama, called "Shambhala," made its debut in South Korea on Saturday night, bringing tranquillity and a piece of nirvana to its audience.

In Tibetan culture, Shambhala, also known as "Shangri-La," means a pure land or paradise that everyone dreams of finding. In Tibetan Buddhism, it is supposed to be found in the eightfold lotus-shaped snow mountain, representing peace, tranquillity and happiness.

In 1993, the English writer James Hilton published the novel, " Lost Horizon," that tells a story about how a veteran British diplomat finds peace, love, and a sense of purpose in a remote community called "Shangri-La." Since then, "Shangri-La," or " Shambhala," has become well-known in the Western world as the symbol of a mythical utopia hidden in an isolated mountain and unspoiled by modern civilization.

Wanma Jiancuo, the 35 year-old Tibetan dancer and choreographer who produced the drama, said the drama "Shambhala" aims to tell people how to make a balance between the material and the spiritual in their quest for inner peace.

The drama combines the traditional Tibetan folk dancing and some elements of modern choreography. There is no clear narrative line in the drama. Instead, kites, strings and other symbolic objects are used and worshipped by the dancers in the drama.

"I have left so much space in the drama for our audience to make their own story. A good drama is created by both the director and the audience. Just like saying that a thousand eyes of the audience can conjure a thousand Hamlets," said Wanma.

Jeon In-Kyong, one of the spectators, said that the play reminded him of the pleasure, anger, sorrow and joy in his life. " Then I feel inner peace and forget the daily hassles after watching the drama," he said.

Unlike traditional televised Tibetan folk galas, the 80-minute dance-drama shunned colorful or grandiose costumes, cheerful actions and ornamental stage. Wanma said the galas that they used were traditional costumes worn by the Tibetan people in their daily lives.

In most cases, the performance in "Shambhala" is like a sketch: dancers wearing cotton clothes in gray or white, most half-naked, emerged from the black background with the help of spotlight. Their faces are sober, sometimes in anguish or in pain.

There is no long and loud music but only the dancers' heaving breaths, the stomping of feet and the strains of folk songs collected from Tibetan villages. Wanma recorded a melody of eagle flute played by a 60-year-old Tibetan artist and added it into the drama. The flute is called eagle flute because it is made from the wing bones of eagles.

Even the old objects that appeared in the dance, such as a horse saddle, a wooden box, and a beam of a house, were all collected by Wanma from the Tibetan pastoral areas during the past few years, most of which are no longer used.

"This drama is very meaningful in terms of folklore, anthropology and dancing arts, explaining the tradition in a real modern way. People from various countries can understand it well as it tells a universal truth that transcends any religion," said Lee In-Sook, council member of South Korea's Dancing Association.

Maybe the only colorful part of the drama is making a compact version of "Mandala." Mandala represents the Universe in Tibetan Buddhism. Tibetan monks often spend days, even months making a Mandala picture with colorful sand and then destroy it in a second as a way of spiritual cultivation and rebirth. It is one way of teaching people not to be seduced by the outside world which is as fragile as the work made of sand.

The dancers made a big Mandala on the stage together and destroyed it at the end of the drama. The audience gasped in a long and deep sigh as they saw the destruction of a real work of art.

"Humankind can take nothing with them after death. I hope everyone can drop their excessive lust and find the real meaning of life," said Wanma.

People's views may vary on where Shambhala really is -- it maybe in Tibet, Qinghai, Yunnan or some places you can never find, but for Wanma, the answer is quite simple: it is in one's own heart.

Editor: Julia Qin


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