Across China: Brick-bakers bring Tibetan song and dance to stage

Source: Xinhua| 2017-07-18 16:35:32|Editor: Zhang Dongmiao
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LHASA, July 18 (Xinhua) -- Thirteen years ago, Penpa Drolkar was too busy baking bricks to harbor dreams of being lead dancer in a Tibetan opera troupe.

Today, Penpa Drolkar is among a group of performers to stage a spectacular show featuring ethnic singing and dancing at the renowned Tibetan Opera Art Center in Lhasa, capital of southwest China's Tibet Autonomous Region.

Penpa Drolkar works for the Yuanda Migrant Workers' Troupe, which consists of 49 farmers and herdsmen from areas around Lhasa. None of them has ever received professional training, and many of Penpa Drolkar's peers used to bake bricks in factories.

"Many people can't remember our troupe's name, 'Yuanda,' so they simply call us the 'brick-bakers' troupe because we used to fire bricks," said Penpa Drolkar. "Yuanda" means "ambitious" in Chinese.

The troupe was formed in 2005. At first, it was a loose collection of a few migrant workers who were passionate about performing in their spare time. Performing helped them relax and brought joy and laughter to their factory co-workers.

"The troupe staged a few shows for the military and performed for free at construction sites for the Lhasa-Xigaze Railway and the Nyingchi-Lhasa Railway builders, which were quite popular," said troupe leader Losang Jinba.

Their performances typically feature singing, dancing, skits and cross-talk, a comedy style. As the performers were migrant workers themselves, the audience felt close to and connected with them. When they started to become popular, the troupe began to perform paid shows in villages surrounding Lhasa.

"In the early days, we received coins and small notes for payment," said Liu Hua, deputy head of the troupe. "We realized that the money must be from poor residents in poverty-stricken villages, so we just returned the money."

Tibet has about 2.3 million farmers and herdsmen, accounting for 74.4 percent of its entire population. Many of them still live in poverty.

"Many villagers were just grateful," Liu said. "Now, whenever big events like Shoton Festival come, they simply request our shows."

The troupe has attracted the attention of professionals.

Jamyang Gyatso, a director with the regional song and dance ensemble, was deeply moved by the migrant workers' passion and simplicity.

"I was surprised at what they delivered, but I also felt bad for the workers," said the director. "They can seriously sing and dance, but they needed better material, a signature performance that is distinctively the 'brick-bakers.'"

Jamyang Gyatso created a show titled "Working between Heaven and Earth." The show debuted at the Tibetan Opera Art Center last week to immense success.

But it was not easy creating a big show for amateur performers, Jamyang Gyatso said.

"For professionals, I can easily explain some movements and get the idea across to the actors within a few minutes, but for migrant workers, it could take a whole day for just one movement," he said. "One should try to help them understand the stories behind each dance."

But since the show is about workers, using worker performers like Pengpa Drolkar is necessary, he said.

The show has won critical acclaim. Tenzin Tsering, former head of the the regional ethnic art research institute, said that the actors "delivered like pros."

"They were born workers with an understanding of working lives, so their performance was natural, which is precious," he said.

Penpa Drolkar and her peers will perform in more Chinese cities inland. Tibetan opera shows like "Princess Wencheng" have had great success in the market in the past, but the brick-bakers will find their own way to success, said Wei Dong, deputy head of Lhasa's cultural bureau.

"'Princess Wencheng' was created with significant historical background, but 'Working between Heaven and Earth' tells the stories of ordinary people," Wei said. "We hope that the show will come to represent Tibet."

"I hope that one day, I will also become a director," Pengpa Drolkar said. "I want to teach girls like me to dance, and tell stories with movement."