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Tibetan Opera Troupe Reborn
Tibetan Opera was returned to one of its early strongholds, Qomolang Village, on the "roof of the world."

Residents of the village at Neqoin Town in the Tibet Autonomous Region's Doilungdeqen County have decided to re-establish their Tibetan Opera troupe.

"As our standard of living improves, we are demanding a richer cultural life," said village head Gaisang Nyima, 54.

He said 28 villagers are now active in the newly established troupe.

Qomolang Village has 1,317 residents, who till 267 hectares of farmland. Many are talented singers and dancers.

Tibetan Opera origins

Legends say that some 400 years ago, a man named Zuodo Tangdong Gyibo decided to build bridges across all the major rivers in Tibet to allow free movement. To fund the project, he created a singing and dancing group composed of seven beauties, called Ngagyi Lhamo, meaning "team of fairies," to perform throughout Tibet. This was the beginning of Tibetan Opera and Tangdong Gyibo is considered its founder.

One of the seven group members was Tangsang, who impressed audiences with her sweet voice and excellent performances. She eventually married Lhugu, a villager of Qomolang Village. The two made a living from their performances, with the husband beating drums and the wife singing and dancing. This was how Tibetan Opera came to Qomolang Village.

Buddhist teachings and Tibetan history are the sources of Tibetan Opera's inspiration. The traditional drama is a combination of dances, chants, songs and masks.

The old Qomolang Village Tibetan Opera troupe was able to perform all of the eight traditional Tibetan Opera routines - Princess Wencheng, Prince Norsang, Drowas Sangmo, Sukyi Nyima, Nangsa Qinbum, Padma Obar, Donyo and Dondrup and Drimed Kundan - most of which were derived from historic events, famous lives, folk tales and stories from the sutras.

The troupe was invited to perform during major festivals in Lhasa, capital of the Tibet Autonomous Region. It was even ordered by the Gaxa government of Tibet to perform in the Norbu Lingka and the Zhaibung Monastery.

The troupe produced some master performers including Zhaxi Toinzhub, who enjoyed fame in the 19th century, and Myima Gyaincain, famous in the early 20th century.

The current Tibetan Opera Troupe of the Tibet Autonomous Region was based on the Qomolang troupe, and Qomolang Village has been dubbed the "hometown of Tibetan Opera."

The Qomolang Village Tibetan Opera troupe, once popular throughout the region, disbanded years ago when hard times hit.

During my recent visit there, I met a 65-year-old woman named Cangjue, who lived in a spacious house at the northern end of the village.

Cangjue was once famous as the only female master artist of the village troupe. However, when she talked about the past, her face clouded over and her eyes turned bitter. She told us the sad story of her childhood:

"As a toddler, I followed my parents around, performing for meagre returns. My stomach was often filled with nothing.

"I joined the village troupe and gradually won fame as a good performer. We used to perform in Lhasa and neighbouring areas in summer. When winter came, we had to trek to Nepal and India. The trips were hard."

She said many of her partners were great masters of the art form.

She still remembers Da Cering, who was the son of the late Tibetan Opera master Zhaxi. There were other Tibetan Opera troupes in Shannan and Xigaze, Cangjue said.

"But ours should be the most famous," she said proudly.

Grandpa Dorje

For Grandpa Dorje, 66, his memories of the village troupe were happy ones. He still remembered the day in 1964 when he performed at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing. He followed the Tibetan Opera troupe in Sermo Township to perform in Beijing.

"After the show, Chairman Mao Zedong and Premier Zhou Enlai received us," Dorje recalled.

"I played flute in the troupe and I love the Tibetan Opera art," he said. "We toured the hinterland performing for one year. Upon returning, I spent all of the allowances I was given to buy musical instruments as gifts for my fellow artists in the Qomolang village troupe," he said.

Dorje's third son was born after he returned from Beijing.

"I named him Galsang Dawa, but my fellow villagers call him Beizhub, meaning 'son of Beijing'."

Beizhub didn't let down the village. He studied very hard and learned enough to become a professional artist with the Tibetan Opera Troupe of the Tibet Autonomous Region.

Grandpa Dorje lives at the western end of Qomolang Village. His house and courtyard were renovated after each of his sons gave him 5,000 yuan (US$604). Dorje obviously led a happy life. "I have six children, and two of them make a living by performing in Lhasa," he said.

Dorje tried to help the re-established village troupe. "Last August, I spent one month teaching them to sing and dance. Most of the 28 members of the troupe are young people who have never received any training in the performing arts," he said.

"I believe they can succeed."

During the Shoton (Yogurt Drinking) Festival last year, the troupe was invited to perform. "I'm confident that we can do more in the future," said Gaisang Nyima, the village head.

This story first appeared in the third issue of China's Tibet magazine this year.

(China Daily May 26, 2003)

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