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Essential elements

(China Daily)

10:20, August 10, 2012

Tibetan dancer-choreographer Wanma Jiancuo (middle) with dancers for his new work Shambhala. (China Daily/Zou Hong)

Tibetan dancer-choreographer Wanma Jiancuo says his new work Shambhala depicts the spiritual pursuit of tranquility, balance and happiness. Chen Nan reports in Beijing.

Tibetan folk dances and songs are widely performed at national galas as they are thought to be mysterious and charming, attracting millions of tourists to explore the country's Tibetan areas. However, Tibetan dancer-choreographer Wanma Jiancuo says it's not the real Tibet that is being portrayed.

"I have choreographed and performed Tibetan dances for some big extravaganzas, such as CCTV's Spring Festival Gala, which requires colorful, grand costumes and cheerful, uplifting moves. However, when I finished dancing, I couldn't help wondering 'Why did I dance like that?'" says the 34-year-old from Hainan Tibetan autonomous prefecture in Qinghai province.

"Those superficial decorations cover the essence of Tibetan culture."

He has also choreographed a 60-minute dance, Shambhala, which means pure land and blissful heaven, in the Tibetan language, depicting the spiritual pursuit of tranquility, balance and happiness. He calls it a "private work", expressing his emotions for Tibetan culture.

"For many people, Shambhala, or Shangri-La, is a popular tourism site. But for Tibetans, it's a spiritual resting place, not something tangible or concrete," he says.

"When I was a kid, my parents told me that you should be a virtuous man and then you will find your Shangri-La," Wanma Jiancuo recalls. "Everyone has his own Shangri-La in their heart."

The dance will be performed at the National Center for the Performing Arts on Aug 15 and 16, as part of Chinese Dance Masterpieces, a month-long event featuring six dance shows by Chinese dancers and choreographers.

On a scorching afternoon, Wanma Jiancuo and eight Tibetan dancers gather in a dance rehearsal room at Minzu University of China. Sitting around an incense burner, they relax.

"I need them to be focused, serious and show respect to the dance," says Wanma Jiancuo. "It's a rite of passage."

As one male dancer rings a bronze Tibetan hand bell and walks slowly, the others follow him with their eyes staring forward. They pick up some objects and worship them sincerely, such as a horse saddle, wooden box, and the beam of a house, which were collected by Wanma Jiancuo from Tibetan families.

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