31 December 2005 2005 nian 12 yue 31 hao

Artlog: December

"Ancient Tang-Tubo Road" is an authentic original local work. With the ancient Tang-Tubo Road as its backdrop, and Princess Wencheng's journey to Tibet for marriage as its main storyline, it artistically represents the splendor of ethnic culture, the rich and varied scenes of ethnic lifestyle, and the riotous colour of ethnic costume.

According to relevant sources at the Provincial Ethnic Song and Dance Theatre, the work "Ancient Tang-Tubo Road" possesses profound significance. Firstly, it celebrates inter-ethnic unity and the establishment of a harmonious society. Secondly, it uses images from the past to celebrate the present. Princess Wencheng's journey to Tibet along the ancient Tang-Tubo Road marked the first page in the history of the ancient road, a page of great importance and lasting influence. Today, under the central leadership of the Party, the world's longest and highest railway line, the Qinghai-Tibet railway connecting inner China with the border regions and striding "the rooftop of the world" has been completed and will next year enter trial use. This production is a gift to celebrate that event. Thirdly, it introduces and promotes some of the scenic spots in Qinghai. There are a multitude of famous places and historical sites along the ancient Tang-Tubo Road, leaving us a splendid cultural legacy set down by generation after generation. And fourthly, it celebrates ethnic culture. The Tibetan people have a long history and a splendid culture, and by organically fusing the central plains of China and the Tubo nation, the past and the present, music, dance, costume, and folk songs into a suble union, this production brings to light the customs and condition of the Tibetan people.

— from Xining Wanbao newpaper, 17 December 2005

My final month in Qinghai takes me yet deeper into Xining's art world...

December 11: The possible choir performance which the staff at the People's Theatre told me about last month turned out, in fact, to be a performance by The Newstead Trio, a piano and string trio from America who are currently near the end of their China tour. Furthermore, although it took a bit of running around to find the company that was organizing the performance, it was not difficult to buy a ticket (160 yuan for B-reserve).

I had to rush back from Lanzhou, where I attended the HSK exam in the morning, to catch tonight's performance, but it was worth it to hear live classical music for the first time in probably three years or more. An orchestra would have been even better, though!

This is actually the first event in the "Winter Music Festival" organized by Xining's largest musical instrument shop. The festival programme seems to be dominated by competitions and performances by children attending the music school affiliated with the shop, but there is also a solo piano recital by a certain Shang Malong, a concert by the China Red Cherry Blossom Female Percussion Group, and a performance by a local choir. The shop hasn't fixed the date of the other events yet, but they told me that the events will be advertized in the Xining Wanbao newspaper.

December 14: Tonight I went with a friend to the Xingguang Canlan Yanyi, Splendid Starlight Theatre. It is accessed from the rear of the Dashizhi Hotel, and they have live performances every night. It cost 10 yuan each at the door, and a minimum of 30 yuan had to be spent on drinks and snacks (weekends might be more expensive, I'm not sure).

The warm-up performance was two young guys singing pop songs, and I thought that might set the tone for the evening, but I was wrong. Suddenly the curtain rose on a brief but energetic dance routine! I must say that I was enthralled. The other performance I liked was a short play, a humourous take on a modern chinese classic called Bai Tou Nü. Apart from that there were, admittedly, quite a few vocal acts, but they were of a high calibre, and accompanied by dancers. One woman even used popular songs punctuated by voiced-over narration to tell a story. Lighting and music were handled very professionally, and there was a charismatic MC who told jokes between the acts. One such "joke" involved threatening an audience member with a cleaver on the suspicion that he was japanese, something which provoked more cheers from the audience than any of the performers themselves (and to think that some caucasians in China are offended by "hello").

December 19: Today I bought a cassette of Qinghai huar (a type of folk song). The best huar albums seem to be on cassette, rather than CD or VCD.

December 20: Today I bought a novel by Ba Jin called Jia ("Family"). I bought it to read on the bus back to Xining. It was the only thing I could find in Minhe worth reading, after scouring two bookshops.

December 26: Thanks to my new habit of buying a Xining Wanbao newspaper whenever I can, I found an article (in the "important news" section) about a song and dance performance called "Ancient Tang-Tubo Road". Part of that article is translated at the top of this page. The performance is inspired by the strategic marriage of Princess Wenchang of the Tang court to tibetan king Songsten Gampo in the 7th century AD, and focuses mainly on her journey from the Tang capital Chang'an (modern day Xi'an) to Lhasa. I bought a ticket for 100 yuan.

I saw the performance tonight, and was surprised by its scale. There were often some 40 or 50 people on the stage at one time, dressed in bright and frequently changing costumes and with elaborate props. There was occasional speaking or singing (prerecorded), but most of the performance was dance. The basic formula for three of the six acts was: Princess Wenchang and her entourage would arrive somewhere, be welcomed by the local people, and everyone would dance. Act 3, where they they are blown about in the snow and wind while crossing Sun-and-Moon Mountains, featured the most interesting choreography.

The strangest point in the performance was the sudden appearance of dancers dressed as tibetan antelope in one act, which is no doubt related to last month's announcement that one of the five mascots of the Beijing Olympics will be based on the poor creature. And the theme of inter-ethnic unity was indeed raised in a few of the songs and speeches. It's interesting to see that even in this day and age, art can still be politicized.

While in many regards I was impressed by the production, I was also acutely aware of the difference between this kind of dancing, which seemed to rely on the large number and continuous motion of the dancers to entertain the audience, and modern dance, with its more abstract yet more precise movements. The aim of this production was to tell a story, while the aim of modern dance is often to evoke a certain mood or create shapes and patterns. And, if done well, I think I enjoy the latter more.

Performance: 'Ancient Tang-Tubo Road' (1)

Performance: 'Ancient Tang-Tubo Road' (2)

When I started writing these "artlogs", I wasn't expecting to find very much to write about. This month's events have surprised me! (And also left me a little out of pocket). I have to admit that Xining is not the cultural desert that I took it to be.

Of course, I expect that Beijing will be another story altogether. For the next few months I may be busy finding work and just getting my bearings, but I hope to restart the "artlogs" at some point in the future.

You are experiencing things that many chinese leave away when they head ahead to the material world.
Wish you good luck to find an enjoyable job.
Happy New Year.
01.01.2006 , 03:19

hehe.great. a nice man.
numen [homepage]
12.01.2006 , 16:53

马福鹏 [homepage]
10.02.2006 , 00:40

why?why I don't see my comment.
mafupeng [homepage]
10.02.2006 , 00:42

Comments disabled. Sorry for any inconvenience.

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