Performing troupe takes root in Inner Mongolian prairie

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It was in the middle of the afternoon, but the herdsmen had put off their work and gathered for the arrival of the Ulan Muqir.

Ulan Muqir (Red Bud Troupe) is the Mongolian name for a traveling troupe that travels from one grazing site to another, performing for the herdsmen who live in some of China's most remote areas. Since it was formed in 1957 in Inner Mongolia, generations of performers have played for the herdsmen and taken root in the prairie.

This time Ulan Muqir was set to perform in Xar Moron township, Chifeng city in northern China's Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region.

"I am so excited that they have finally come. Ulan Muqir's performances are my favorite," said Tumendelger, one of the herdsmen.

Yilan, 83, a first-generation Ulan Muqir performer, still remembers when the first Ulan Muqir troupe formed.

"It was June 17, 1957. We gave our first performance in Sunite Right Banner in Xilingol League. So many herdsmen came to watch our performance. The blue sky was our curtain and the grassland our stage," she said. "The herdsmen were so happy and they sang and danced with us and didn't want to leave."

According to Yilan, as herdsmen lived in prairies far from the city, they did not have books, newspapers or radios, or access to folk art.

"But they had the need, and that was why we formed the first Ulan Muqir troupe," she said. "At that time, we only had a gramophone, two gas lamps, several musical instruments and a few costumes."

Yilan said that nine members in the troupe traveled over 3,000 kilometers in the next two months, bringing over 30 performances to herdsmen living deep in the prairies.

The troupe rode horses in summer and camels in winter.

"The road could often be very bumpy," she said. "Despite the difficulties, we all felt very happy as the herdsmen and us were like a family. They treated us just like their children, with hospitality and the best food they had."

Not only did Ulan Muqir perform for the herdsmen, but they also helped them with shepherding, sheep-shearing and mowing.

The Ulan Muqir would bring a newspaper in Mongolian and read news to the herdsmen to help them keep informed about the country.

"Apart from newspapers and books, we then brought things they needed such as medicine. We also did hair-dressing or fixed clocks for them," said Jia Fengying, 49, who joined Sunite Right Banner Ulan Muqir troupe in 1983.

Sarinhua, 54, is a big fan of Ulan Muqir.

"I take my children to watch Ulan Muqir's performances every time they come to our village," she said. "We now have radio and television, but we still prefer their performances because we can see our life in their songs and dances."

According to Mongh, head of the Sunite Right Banner Ulan Muqir troupe, all the works of Ulan Muqir are rooted in herdsman life.

"Ulan Muqir takes root in herdsman life and serves the herdsmen. This is essential to Ulan Muqir," he said.

Unin, 32, a dancer in the troupe, explained how they choreographed the milk dance.

"We went to the prairie and observed how herdsmen milked [their animals]. Every gesture must be real to reflect the herdsmen's life," she said.

Inspired by her grandmother, who was also a Ulan Muqir performer, Unin joined Ulan Muqir about ten years ago.

Thanks to transport improvements, the troupe now has vehicles, but things are not as easy as they seem.

"Once, the shuttle broke down halfway on a snowy day. It was freezing cold," she said. "But no one complained. We carried our musical instruments on our shoulders and walked and sang happily all our way. Every Ulan Muqir performer is able to bear hardship."

Aside from performing she also has a deep understanding of the spiritual significance of what they are doing.

"Ulan Muqir performers are devoted and always have an attachment to the herdsmen and the prairie. It is a spirit that has been passed down from my grandma's generation to my generation," she said.

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