Transcription of Interview with Khenpo Garwang

Date: 15 January 2014

Time: 1100-1200

Venue: Mahabodhi Stupa, Bodhgaya, India

Q: Khenpo, can you tell me a bit about yourself?

A: Khenpo is from Tsopa Gompa in Tibet of the Barong Kagyu lineage in Nangchen, Kham.  He came in 1997 to receive empowerment from Gyaltsap Rinpoche. He taught in Nalanda Institute in Sikkim from 1998. Now he works for Tsurphu Labrang. He started working for Kagyu Monlam since 2004/ 2005. He is the main supervisor of the dharma group. Mahakalacham was organized by him too. Dharma group has 3 levels: shrine offering, umze (chant masters), discipline masters.


Q: Khenpola, Tashi Delek. Can you tell me the meaning of ‘cham?

A: ‘cham is related to dharma activities. We believe that usually Buddha himself has said that ‘cham has to be performed. Unlike other religious traditions, their spiritual heads have mainly taught on one canon/ textbook. In Buddhism, Buddha has taught innumerable teachings according to different faculties and dispositions of the disciples. 84,000 teachings. These can be divided into 2 categories: sutra and tantra/ mantra teachings. The main objective of the Buddhist teachings is for peace and wellbeing of mind and body. From the 2 categories, sutra mainly focuses on wellbeing and peace of mind while tantra focuses on wellbeing of body. It has been mentioned in the tantra teachings…actually the tantra teachings, the other name is secret mantra. It is practised mainly by the lama and the guru himself, not in public…and transmit the teachings and special lineages through disciples, one by one and not in public display. In reality it has to be carried on like that…because this lineage is called secret mantra, even though Buddha has talked about ‘cham or sacred performance, the public hasn’t witnessed it until recently. Even in India,  ‘cham wasn’t performed in public after long time, only lately. In terms of Tibet, when Buddhism first came to Tibet, it wasn’t performed in public. Only the time of Marpa Lotsawa and the first lineage of Sakyapa, it started to be performed in public. The family was from Nyingma background. Karma Kagyu lineage of cham, it was first brought to Tibet from India by Palchen Galo who was the teacher of first Karmapa, Dusum Khyenpa. We have older and newer tantra. This is according to the newer tantra. According to the records, Palchen Galo has brought to Tibet from India 3 types of cham: 4-armed Mahakala ‘cham, ‘cham with crow-faced with human body and sinjungcham (lion-faced).


Q: Do you mean ‘cham is brought to Tibet from India?

A: Just like all the Buddhist teachings which are brought from India, they are from Indian Buddhism tradition. The root is in India. The time of 3rd Karmapa, Rangjung Dorje, several ‘cham were created. they were not made up but according to tantra sadhana and according to his visions. he first created the gomacham (performed in 2012). During the time of 5th Karmapa, he had a vision of the chakrasambhava feast vajra dance. this cham that he saw in his vision after chakrasambhava came to his vision, it’s a long cham lasting for couple of days. it was transmitted by 5th Karmapa to his disciple, named Surmang something…founder of the Surmang Kagyu lineage. This lineage of cham, is still continuously practised in the Surmang Kagyu lineage Sikkim monastery of Garwang Rinpoche…the main seat is in Kham and is still performed every year there.

During the time of 6th Karmapa, he had a vision of Mahakala. according to that vision, Black Hat dance started from that time, which is not the same as it is performed nowadays. This particular Black Hat dance was performed by people who were travelling with Karmapa as his encampment. There’s one monastery in Tibet, Teyak Drupon Monastery in Nangchen, Kham. The costume is similar but the dance is totally different- the text, visualisation etc. This is the ‘cham lineage of Karma Kamstang. For other Kagyu lineages, it is mainly based on ‘cham brought to Tibet by Palchen Galo. On top of this, specific lineage of Karma Kamstang, Kagyupas also perform Nyingmapa ‘cham lineages because Kagyu and Nyingma are very close and share similar practices. Nyingmapa ‘cham has 2 categories: one based on tantra Indian, the other based on terton, their vision. Sakyapa also has ‘cham.  Root dance of vajrakilayacham is based on root tantra brought from India. The tsechucham was based on terton tradition.


Q: How did ‘cham become public?

A: Even though ‘cham was transmitted one to one, many people also have this one-to-one lineage and slowly it became public. There is no special reason why ‘cham became to be performed in public. Initially it was practised in a proper way, the effectiveness of the sacred mantra practice was very high, but later it degenerated, as it is made more public, many people have the knowledge, but someday this will flourish again. For the reason of benefit of all.

Q: Could you please tell me about the ‘cham performances of Karmapa?

A: Every individual has different power and capabilities. They are effective in whatever they perform…skilful methods in being beneficial for all sentient beings. Similarly, when somebody is giving a talk to somebody in same language, but whatever Khenpo is saying something as compared to the Karmapa, the level of benefit is very different. So therefore, the same ‘cham is performed in the same place, the person who is performing, the power and effectiveness of the person is very different between Karmapa and an ordinary person…more powerful. Similarly, if somebody say there will be cham by somebody, there won’t be much people attending. But if they say it is Karmapa performing, some people even if they cannot get holiday from their job, they will resign just to attend the event. That is the power and benefits of seeing Karmapa perform.


Q: Is it true that each Karmapa will only perform ‘cham for a few times in each lifetime?

A: There is not any specific number of times Karmapa will perform, it is just based on circumstances and resources. Lots of things to gather for one performance. Depends on Karmapa’s age. Karmapa himself said that this cham is very important so he would like to perform it. He chose himself. His holiness… in any dharma activity that is beneficial for sentient beings, he always want to take part in that. Only twice, he has got the opportunity to perform in India.


Q: Is there anything “special” that Khenpo notices in Karmapa’s performance?

A: Even though Khenpo knows the history, but not everything is put into practice. Karmapa first gave the task of working member of Kagyu Monlam. Khenpo’s task is organizing the ‘cham. He and Gyaltsen Sonam and Labrang staff collaborate in the task. It was a great opportunity. As a Buddhist, Bodhgaya is the most sacred site, for Karmapa to perform here is just amazing!!! Great amazement and great devotion!!!


Q: Khenpo, can you share with me your experience of organizing the ‘cham event this year?

A: This year, we want to perform particularly the garchen tsechucham. Rumtek, Ralang and Benchen, these 3 monasteries have performed garchen tsechu continuously. Bokar Rinpoche’s Gompa in Mirik- they performed gutor- mahakala cham, sinjung is performed in guto and tsechu. Usually, female roles in ‘cham (dakini cham) are also performed by monks in the monasteries. Since we are performing in a gathering where both monks and nuns are available, Karmapa said the female roles are to be performed by nuns from Gyaltsap Rinpoche,  Khenpo Tsultrim Gyamso and Thrangu Rinpoche nunneries.


Mind and Life European Summer Research Institute

In August 2014, I was selected to attend the Mind and Life European Summer Research Institute (ESRI) in Chiemsee. The annual conference is a “week-long event to advance collaborative research in behavioural science, neuroscience and mind-body medicine based on a process of inquiry, dialogue and collaboration with contemplative practitioners and scholars of Buddhism and other contemplative traditions” (, 2014). All participants stay together in a 8th century Benedictine Abbey (nunnery) of Frauenwörth on the island of Chiemsee. At the end of the week conference, I interviewed Mathieu Ricard, a famous French Buddhist monk who was a speaker at the conference and wrote many books including ‘Monk Dancers of Tibet’. He commented that a lot of monks nowadays do not know much about ‘cham and gave me a few of his amazing photographs on ‘cham. He gave me the permission to use his photographs provided I write to him beforehand.

Fieldnotes in India (December 2013- January 2014)

On 30 December 2013, I received a phone call from a friend telling me to hurry to Tergar Monastery at once to attend the rehearsal of the dance ritual. I sped to the location and managed to squeeze into the shrine hall of Tergar Monastery where the rehearsal was taking place before the security guards barred the rest of the public from entry. The rehearsal was a solemn event and supposedly not open to the public. I had my camera equipment with me but without the permission to film, I left the camera alone. I took some footages from my phone as it appeared less intruding. In my rush to get to the monastery, I had left my glasses at home. Being short-sighted, I could only discern lama figures dancing in space, but I could hardly make out which lama was dancing even though the Karmapa participated in the dance rehearsal. For rehearsals, the monks were dressed in their special red robes with golden sleeves and white shoes, but not the full dance costumes. At times, they have a huge red sash tied diagonally across one of their shoulders. They have a golden badge that hangs low in front of their bodies.

During the day of the performance (10 January 2014), I woke up at 3.30a.m. to wait in queue to enter the dance pavilion. By the time I arrived at the site, the queue had had snaked half a kilometre across the field beside the pavilion. People started lining up as early as 2a.m. It was estimated at 10,000 the number of people who came. Karmapa gave a brief lecture of the meaning of ‘cham before the performance. This is rather unusual practice according to the tradition but it shows the importance Karmapa placed on communicating the meaning of the dance ritual to all. He stressed that:

“This sacred lama dance with such a long history and profound meaning is totally unlike any kind of ordinary or mundane dance. The essence of the vajra dance is the recognition of the nature of all phenomena as the union of appearance and emptiness. The practitioners of the vajra dance use their own body, speech and mind not as ordinary body, speech and mind but those of the deity, and the dance becomes a way to express this. Therefore when a realised practitioner performs the lama dance they can cause the blessings of the body, speech and mind of the deities to actually enter the body, speech and mind of the viewers” (Gyalwang Karmapa’s Introduction to the Tsechu Lama Dance, 2014).

There were few interesting episodes that unfolded throughout the dance ritual, some of which I experienced physically. Before the event, I suffered from a bad headache while waiting in queue in the wee hours of the morning. I could not bring myself to stand and was almost crawling in line on the ground. Initially I thought it was due to the lack of sleep but the pain kept worsening. While witnessing the dance, I started to develop a very high fever to the point I could feel my head throbbing as I slipped in and out of consciousness. I was seated in the centre with a good view of the stage, but my drowsiness prevented me from paying attention to what was happening onstage. I had my pen and journal ready to take notes, but I could hardly pick up the pen. Right after the third dance, “there is an explosion on the roof of the Pavilion like horses’ hooves clattering on metal. Not an ordinary rainstorm with a drop by drop preparation, but a deluge pouring from the sky”(A Rain of Blessing from the Copper Coloured Mountain, 2014). It was followed by thunderous applause from all that were present in the pavilion. Despite my condition, I realize this was no ordinary rain but a blessing from Guru Rinpoche[1] whom they were honouring in the dance.

My fever subsided towards the end of the performance. Later on, I was told what I experienced during the event was not coincidental. Sickness is viewed as a form of purification in the Tibetan tradition. The purpose of ‘cham is to purify obscurations for both the dancers and viewers. I would not claim that I witnessed the dance with full devotion as one is supposed to, but I definitely experienced the full brunt of the spectacle. Even though I did not manage to film the performance myself, I did obtain all footages of the dance from the official media companies. I also managed to arrange an hour-long interview with Khenpo (academic title equivalent to a Doctorate, PhD) Garwang (Refer to Appendix 1) who was in charge of organizing the dance ritual.


[1] Guru Rinpoche, also known as Padmasambhava, brought Buddhism to Tibet in the 8th century.

A Day of Rare Buddhist Dances


This article aims to offer a critical reflection on a daylong Buddhist dance performance held in conjunction of the opening of the Robert H.N. Ho Family Foundation Gallery of Buddhist Sculpture at the Victoria & Albert Museum in London on 1 May 2009. Most of the information gathered for this article was extracted from Core of Culture, the producer’s website under “Projects”. Search on the Victoria & Albert Museum (hereby referred to as V&A) did not yield any results on the Day of Rare Buddhist Dance, whereas on Robert H.N. Ho Family Foundation, the sponsor’s website, four press release packages were made available to the media as early as March 2009 in three languages (English, Chinese and Cantonese). A Day of Rare Buddhist Dances took place as part of a series of arts and cultural events called The Many Faces of Buddhism across several locations in London to celebrate the gallery opening. The recordings of these events were presented in DVD format a year later in spring 2010.


The Hong Kong-based Robert H. N. Ho Family Foundation (hereby referred to as the Foundation) was “founded in 2005 with twin missions: the first to promote Chinese arts and culture; the second to foster a deeper understanding of Buddhist philosophy and apply its insights to the practice of creativity” (Source) throughout the world. The founder is Robert Ho Hung Ngai, son of Kuomintang general Ho Shai Lai and grandson of Sir Robert Hotung (Lam). The family lineage is carefully stated in the review article about the gallery because it is believed that sharing one’s wealth will bring good merits to one’s ancestors and future generations besides oneself. The Buddhist Sculpture Gallery at the Victoria & Albert Museum is named after the Foundation.

V&A is “the world’s greatest museum of art and design”[1] in central London and boasts a history of over a century with collections spanning “two thousand years of art in virtually every medium”[2]. The V&A website announces its “collections of sculpture from Asia are among its greatest treasures…thanks to a generous donation from the Robert H N Ho Family Foundation and has enabled the V&A’s unrivalled holdings of Asian Buddhist Sculpture”[3]

Robert H. N. Ho Family Foundation Gallery boasts an impressive collection of Buddhist sculptures ranging from A.D. 200 to 1850 throughout Asia. The Gallery also features “an interactive display to explain the gestures and poses used in Buddhist sculpture”[4]. There is a review article on the Buddhist sculptures in the Robert Ho Family Foundation Gallery by Raymond Lam (a scholar from Hong Kong at the SOAS, University of London) published by the V&A Online Journal[5] and another by Antony Gormley at Financial Times under the Fine Arts Section[6].  The former claims it to be “the first in the V&A solely devoted to the chronological and geographical development of Buddhist art, and occupies an accessible location next to the Museum’s John Madejski Garden” (Lam). The Foundation’s website heralds it to be “U.K.’s first gallery for Buddhist sculpture”[7].

The Many Faces of Buddhism, is a series of arts and cultural events to celebrate the opening of the The Robert H.N. Ho Family Foundation Gallery on from Saturday 25 April to Sunday 17 May 2009. [8] The programme included dance (A Day of Rare Buddhist Dance at the V&A), visual arts, talks (International Forum on Buddhism and the Arts at the V&A featuring Lin Hwai Min from Cloud Gate Dance Theatre, Meredith Monk and other experts in the field) and films (International Buddhist Film Festival at the Barbican)[9].

A Day of Rare Buddhist Dances featured a full day’s performance (10 hours) gathering Buddhist dancers and performers from all over the world including Nepal, Japan, Sri Lanka and India. It took place at the Grand Hall (Raphael Room) of the V&A on 1 May 2009 and lasted from 11a.m. to 9p.m. It is claimed by the producer to have broken with “both the museum model and the cultural export model for traditional dance…[with] dance being presented as seriously as fine art, traditionally the most highly valued form of creative expression in Western culture” (Houseal).

POH day of rare buddhist dance program

The producer, Core of Culture, is a United States-based organization which aims to preserve “dances threatened by failing patronage, changing media preferences, or dying memories” (Program, ). It is founded by a dancer and editor of Ballet Review, Joseph Houseal who has immense interest in the ancient forms of dance including Japanese Noh, as a practitioner and an advocator. He is referred to as an “Asian Dance Specialist” in the Press Release of the Foundation. The Foundation has previously sponsored Core of Culture’s dance preservation project in the Kingdom of Bhutan, resulting in exhibitions and publications.

The preparation time of one year speaks volume to the amount of effort required to put this event together. Houseal commented,

“when the Robert H. N. Ho Family Foundation contacted Core of Culture in summer 2008 about taking various ancient Buddhist dances to London as part of the inaugural celebrations of the new Robert H. N. Ho Family Foundation Gallery of Buddhist Sculpture at the Victoria and Albert Museum, I realized the difficulty, as well as the sublimity, of the task.  I knew how it would enhance an experience of the sculptures in the gallery, as well as exalt the occasion of the gift in a manner so refined and magnificent as to take on truly historic proportions”.

For the event, they erected a “purpose-built Noh stage” at one end of the grand hall and a Sri Lankan folk altar at the other. The Noh stage was built to specification and later given to University of Reading where a full program utilizing the stage takes place. Judging from the logistics of the dancers and the props alone, the budget for this dance event appeared to be colossal.

A day prior to the performance event, Joseph Houseal gave a talk to “introduce, explore and discuss the wider subject of Buddhist sacred dance heritage”[10], perhaps also to prep the audience about the solemnity of the performances. In the detailed program notes, it is carefully noted for each performance the history of the dance form, a brief synopsis of the play, lineage or background of the performers and interestingly, tips for watching. The wording for the tips was courteous and subtle in discouraging applause, such as: “When the performances are over, the qualityof silence is something to savour” and “One can watch Charya Nritya as if watching a visual prayer”[11].

The producer claimed “for rarity and authenticity, as well as pedigree, A Day of Rare Buddhist Dances was unprecedented in the history of Buddhism, of London and of the V&A” (Houseal). The rarity of the occasion was reiterated in the press release stating that:

“It is estimated that there are only 1000 Noh actors and only 30 Drikung Kagyu nuns who perform the dances left in the world. A Day of Rare Buddhist Dances will provide a unique opportunity to watch these few surviving examples of authentic sacred Buddhist dances, some of which have never before been performed in the West. In addition, the Sri Lankan Suvisi Vivaranya ritual has not been performed in Sri Lanka for over 50 years, and has been revived as part of this project”[12].

To bring in the Sri Lankan clan dancers, the Foundation “underwrote a Core of Culture research and scouting trip to Sri Lanka, resulting in the revival of danced ritual unperformed for more than 50 years, the Suvisi Vivaranaya, or Dance Ritual of the 24 Previous Buddhas”.  This ritual had almost been forgotten, etched in memory only by its heir, the “Dehimaduwa Bandara Clan of Kandy, Sri Lanka, a family of ritual drummers and dancers, appointed as ritual stewards 389 years ago by a Kandyan king”. Owing to the rediscovery by foreign dance experts, “the Bandara Clan is readying the ritual for international exposure” (Houseal). Authenticity claims around reconstructions of dying dance practices, especially outside of their original context, begs for a closer investigation of the numerous factors surrounding the dance, including the reasons that contribute to its decline or revival henceforth. Too little information is given regarding the practice of Suvisi Vivaranaya as well as the Dehimaduwa BandaraClan Family of Kandy. It was only made known that the dancers were sought out with the help of “Mohan Daniel of Serendib Gallery in Colombo” and that “every performer is a member of the Clan, and they range in age from early 20sto late 70s”.

It is in fact highly unusual for performers and practitioners of four different Buddhist traditions to convene on a single stage. However, the unusualness of the occasion resides in the location of the stage, in central London, rather than the coming together of different traditions. In an e-mail correspondence between the author and Joseph Houseal, dated 28 February 2012, he commented:

“Theatrical spaces are that. They will not be spiritualized to allow a ritual experience even if they allow a contemplative one…we rebuilt as far as we could the ritual spaces of the dancers, explained what we were doing to the audience…discouraged applause in many places…the issue might be more a matter of improving tourism to allow them to attend real ones without contributing to their decline.”

Houseal raised an important issue here that it is the collaborative nature of the tourism and heritage industries, with museum institutions like the V&A falling comfortably between both. The all-too-foreignness or the dislocation of the event, with money coming in from Hong Kong-China, management expertise from United States, performers presenting ancient Buddhist dances from exotic places in Asia, all of them convening in a cosmopolitan city in Western Europe, was desirable and called for in its distancing effect. “A hallmark of heritage productions-perhaps their defining feature-is precisely the foreignness of the ‘tradition’ to its context of presentation. This estrangement produces an effect more Brechtian than mimetic and makes the interface a critical site for the production of meanings other than the ‘heritage’ message” (Kirshenblatt-Gimblett, 1995, 374). As James Clifford has proclaimed, “tourism thrives on such startling juxtapositions, on what might be called the tourist surreal-the foreignness of what is presented to its context of presentation” (Clifford 1981 :563).

In India, there is an annual performing arts festival open to the public, called Mahabotsa, which brings together Buddhist performances from different countries and traditions as well. The festival takes place in Bodhgaya, the holiest site of Buddhism, where the Buddha attained enlightenment during the peak pilgrimage season. Bodhgaya is thronged by pilgrims from all over the world, giving the festival an international exposure. London is a cosmopolitan which attracts people from everywhere, but nowhere was it mentioned whether admission of the dance event was open to the public or by invitation or ticket. Viewing from the pictures of the event, the audience appeared to be a small selective group of people. Given the stellar list of players involved in putting together the dance event, it seemed to be a highly exclusive show or a private viewing for the elite.

Little is known that Buddhism has been presented in the most dance forms as compared to other religions (Houseal, Program) given that music and dance are frowned upon in Mahayana and Theravada Buddhism. Buddhism has been referred to as a “performing art” (Beyer) and “theatre of compassion” due to the rich array of performing arts it has to offer as a religion abound with rituals and ceremonies. Given its propensity to drama, it is not surprising that many Buddhist rituals have been adopted on the stage as performance, blurring the line between sacred and profane. ’cham is a good example of the adaptation of Buddhist rituals on Western stage as it “now stands as one of the marketable hallmarks of the monastic culture of Tibet, alongside sand mandalas and overtone chanting” (Henrion-Dourcy, 185, 2006). It is not a recent phenomenon for Western audience has long been fascinated with the exoticism that the roof of the world, Tibet, has to offer. As early as 1921, British audience were exposed to scenes of ‘cham (it was referred to as Devil Dance) through the screening of the “Film of the Mount Everest Expedition of 1921” at the Philharmonic Hall[13] in London.

“The music played during the Devil Dance film being shown at Philharmonic Hall…and Devil dancing fit in with one another very adequately, and in a crude way seem to me to be a very high form of art…This enter-tainment, with its accompanying films of travel across Tibet and of climbing 27,ooo-ft. on the world’s highest mountain, is to be continued, it is hoped, until the first week in February. The profits from the show are to be used for the equipment of a similar expedition next year.” (Somervell, 1923, 108).

Almost a century later, British audience continues to be enthralled by the Tibetan mystical arts as seen from the headlines “Tibetan monks to rock Glastonbury 2013”[14]. The performance at the hugely popular music festival was described as “a pilgrimage of a different kind [whereby] the Dalai Lama’s monks…will create a ceremonial Sand Mandala, which is a Tibetan Buddhist tradition of building a symbolic picture of the universe out of coloured sand”[15]. That was not the first time the Gyuto Monks, who were signed to Universal Music, have toured internationally, their past performance venues included “London’s Royal Albert Hall, New York’s Carnegie Hall and the Sydney Opera House”[16].

In view of these ancient dance practices on the brink of extinction, what would be the best practice to preserve them? According to Core of Culture, “Preservation means reviving dances no longer practiced, encouraging those who know their dances to find means and places to perform them, documenting the dances of changing societies and cultures, using modern technology to make preservation and education about the dances possible, and helping those who want to preserve their own dances to do so” (Core of Culture). How does one thread the fine line between preservation as heritage and intervention into the culture for “all heritage interventions – like the globalizing pressures they are trying to counteract – change the relationship of people to what they do” (Kirshenblatt-Gimblett, 2004:58)? In Houseal’s word, if preservation means “reviving dances no longer practiced” how much would safeguarding measures bring the practice back to life? In the case of the Sri Lankan clan dancers, have they been actively performing again since this dance event at the V&A? Or is this just a one-off performance? To acknowledge the challenge of striking a balance between “freezing the practice and addressing the inherently processual nature of culture” (Kirshenblatt-Gimblett, 2004, 58) is to take into account the vitality of dance as a cultural phenomenon. “If it is truly vital, it does not need safeguarding; if it is almost dead, safeguarding will not help” (Kirshenblatt-Gimblett, 2004, 56). Back to the issue of heritage and tourism, “because heritage economy is now being recognized as a modern economy” (Kirshenblatt-Gimblett, 2004, 61), there is danger of celebrating cultural differences on the surface, regardless of its vitality.

In her article “Theorizing Heritage” written twenty years ago in 1995, Barbara Kirshenblatt- Gimblett ends it by claiming “theorizing heritage is a place to start” in rethinking our practices on producing heritage. Dance, especially, cannot depend on pedestals and sculptures in galleries, but “on the living transmission of cultural knowledge and values, and that depends on intangible cultural property, which lives in performance. It must be performed to be transmitted; this is the source of its life” (Kirshenblatt-Gimblett, 1995, 378-379). By going behind the scenes and identifying the players who brought A Day of Rare Buddhist Dances together at V&A, this article hopes to raise issues and challenges in putting dance, particularly traditional dances, in modern cultural spaces.








[8] Program Notes of Day of Rare Buddhist Dances, Victoria & Albert Museum, 2009.



[11] Program Notes of Day of Rare Buddhist Dances, Victoria & Albert Museum, 2009.


[13] The Philharmonic Hall, 97 Great Portland Street, London, originally the St James’s Hall, was built in 1907–08 to replace the St James’s Hall that once stood in Regent Street. The building is now used by the BBC and known as Brock House. Source:,_London




Inauguration of WDA-AP Nepal Chapter

Performance title: “YES I DO”

Modern weddings are hopelessly bound to dreams. 90 years after the completion of Marcel Duchamp’s masterpiece “The Bride Stripped Bare by her Bachelors, Even” (1915-1923), Yes, I do revisits the indecisive reunion between a woman and her dreams that men can fulfill or not. Wedding, as a ritual or myth, is debunked in this collaboration piece of dance and media.

Choreography: Shanny Rann

Dancers: Shanny Rann and Sudam Chhatkuli

Media Artist:  Eeyan Chuah

Text: “For it is better to marry than to burn” (1 Corinthians 7:9) and “The Bride Stripped Bare by her Bachelors, Even” (1915-1923) by Marcel Duchamp

Music:  “Sonata No.8” by Innocence Mission

Speech: “Husband and Wife is Fate, Children are Debt” by Master Jing Kong

The Nepal Chapter of World Dance Alliance – Asia Pacific was inaugurated on the 10 of February, 2013, after a two-day event jointly organized by a delegation of World Dance Alliance members from Bangladesh, India and Malaysia and the dancers, choreographers and dance scholars of Nepal, which was hosted by Vajra Hotel, Kathmandu. 
The two day event saw, several dance workshops, performances and discussions between the Nepalese dance community consisting of master teachers as well as young dancers, and the visitors from the different member countries of World Dance Alliance – Asia Pacific.

John Cage + Nam Jun Paik + Sin Cha Hong =251

A show of towering figures, literally. “John Cage + Nam June Paik+ Sin Cha Hong =251”
took place on July 20th, 2012 at Gwangju Art Museum to commemorate Cage’s 100th birthday and Paik’s 80th birthday as part of the museum’s 20th anniversary celebration. Two hundred fifty one indeed, is the sum of the ages of three avant‐garde icons coming together in body and spirit one hot summer afternoon on the southwestern tip of Korea.

Sin Cha Hong and Werner Sasse

The performance of John Cage’s 4”33’ kicked off the show to a full‐house audience at
2p.m. It is noteworthy that the audience was mostly comprised of the older generation. The
conductor held a baton in one hand and a stopwatch on the other. With each wave of his baton, the pianist would close and open the piano lid. Even 60 years after this piece was first
performed in 1952, 4”33’ still presents as a challenge to both the performers and audience. For the former, how best to navigate the silence in the most natural and unassuming way; for the latter, what are they listening to when the score is blank? For what felt like a century to some, four minutes and thirty three seconds finally passed. That the performers bowed in slight amusement, even embarrassment, at the end robbed the performance of a conviction that is very much required for a successful rendition of so revolutionary a work. John Cage proves, then and again, how the simplest task can very well turn out to be the most difficult to master.

The second part of the show is titled “15”—Sound & Silence, Painting & Non‐painting and
Movement & Non‐movement”, a collaboration work between the reallife couple Sin Cha Hong and Werner Sasse. They were both clad in black gowns, Hong left an oversized flower
perching on her ear and wore large suede boots with tiny grey stones painted on the bottom. Sasse had his hat on and black rubber shoes (Korean traditional shoes known as
gomusin) that looked rather dainty on his tall figure. One could not help but be instantly affected by their freedom and playfulness as they waltzed in from the back of the crowd. The stage, however remained empty. A blank canvas spreads out over a plastic sheet on the floor. In between the stage and the canvas, an old basket sat wearily, suspended between long bamboo sticks. A black and golden urn with three unburnt incense sticks, an unlit candle stuck in an empty Soju bottle and three pottery vases—these were the “toys” lined up against the stage. The display fuelled the imagination of the audience: what were they there for? The couple has clearly managed to extend their famous motto of ‘Love is play’ into their performance (play)ground.

When does a performance begin and when does it end? When the performers enter and
leave the stage? Wherein lie the boundaries of the stage? Now the performers occupied a space outside the stage as they each stand behind a music stand facing each other across the canvas. They flipped the first score open and started talking with each other obligingly, full of nods and smiles, hearing what the other was saying but not really listening. The conversation ended as abruptly as it started. Hong walked to the top of the canvas and poured ink from the first vase into the basket. Meanwhile, Sasse headed to the opposite end of the canvas and did a prostration. The significance of his bow would be unveiled much later into the performance. He then joined Hong to lift and dangle the basket over the canvas. Ink began to drip and sprinkle onto the canvas as Hong maneuvered the bamboo sticks like the male lead in a waltz. Sasse completed the dance on his end by responding attentively to her initiated movements. Once the ink was used up, they returned the basket to its original position and resumed their stance behind the music stands.

They repeated the whole procedure twice, each time with a variation in their dialogue,
a change of roles and ways of improvising the ink drip. Once they lingered over the canvas just to watch the ink seep. The concentration of the ink got thicker with each vase as they oozed with decreasing speed but starker contrast on the canvas. When a dancer paints, watch not only her interaction with the canvas but follow the path of the ink! Watch how it travels from the vase to the basket onto the canvas and down to the ground. Following the third ink drip, the canvas was hung upright on stage. The ink flow started to change from its horizontal spread to a vertical plunge with the pull of gravity. Sasse lit the incense and placed the urn in front of the canvas. The stage was no longer empty as it was then transformed into an altar. All that they were doing prior becomes the mere preparation for the final offering. The dance began only when the stage was once again still, save for the faint sound of ink dripping against the rising wisps of smoke.

When tilted, the performance became art.

Performance art is thus an art form that includes and allows the viewers a rare glimpse
of the intimate process of art making. What they are witnessing is a work‐in‐progress, not so
much in the sense that it is yet to be fully conceived, but rather something that is taking shape, completing and vanishing in its performance before their very eyes. Like 4”33’, 15” can be performed by anyone, as it is less a display of talent than an abandon, perhaps even a mockery, of it. What is being said is not said, what is being painted, not painted, what is being moved, not moved. Making art can be as liberating as closing the keyboard lid at the right second, dribbling ink on the right spot. Freedom at play calls for a surrendering and renunciation of the agency behind the performer. What makes such a performance compelling, if not the simplicity that is ironically far from simple to achieve? If one grapples with the difficulty of understanding the piece, try letting go of that something that yearns to understand. Only when there is release—an opening—can beauty enter.

As much as 15” is a premeditatedly non‐intended performance in its improvisation and
dependency on chance, every movement of the performers, however slight, becomes purposeful in its very execution. Not unlike the first performance of 4”33’, utmost conviction is hence desperately needed to not risk the act into a big joke. Any breath of hesitation, any moment of uncertainty renders the performance weak and incomplete. At some points, Hong and Sasse were taking more steps than necessary, pausing a little too long to let their thinking show. Reducing the walking and the handling of props could make a more direct impact on the audience and the performance, more succinct.

The last performance was interactive whereby audience were given stones to play with. The
sound produced by the knocking of stones was what inspired Hong to name her dance troupe “Laughing Stone” thirty years ago. There was all of a sudden a gush of noise
from the crowd, what a relief after twenty minutes of watching in disbelief and perhaps confusion! Just when they thought they could let loose, Sasse put an end to the commotion with an index finger raised to his hushed lips. The audience was again commanded by
silence and that was how the show ended. Of course, the stillness did not last long, what
ensued was a thunderous applause with extended clapping of the stones, which became pieces of memorabilia that the crowd could take home with them.

If “Bye‐bye Kipling”, the second trilogy of space opera that linked Seoul and New York
was Nam June Paik’s 20th century answer to Kipling’s 19th century claim that the East and West would never be able to understand each other, 251 must be Sin Cha Hong’s 21st century extension of Paik’s reply. Having worked with both Paik and Cage on numerous occasions, she is the living proof of a stimulating exchange of ideas that took place in New York City. Her work exudes wisdom that far transcends the confines of borders. Werner Sasse, on the other hand, is a German expert in Korean studies who lives and breathes as a Korean man. Just as the boundaries of the stage are blurred in the performance, wherein lies the demarcation between the East and West? In the inner realm beyond words, is it not reduced to our shared experience as mere human beings? A monumental tribute to the bygone maestros, 251 unfolds with the exhaustion of sound and movement; an ingenious work that gradually expands with the presence of what is left behind in silence. A day to remember that, after all, silence is not so hard to bear.



PINA is not only one of the first European 3D movies to be made, it is also the world’s first 3D dance film. Under the disguise of film, PINA is less a documentary than Wenders’ heartfelt tribute to the late revolutionary choreographer, Pina Bausch—celebration of her genius in the art of creating dance. For the third time since HAMMETT where Wenders tried out Coppola’s electronic studio and BUENA VISTA SOCIAL CLUB with his first high-resolution digital film, Wenders is once again helming the vanguard of cinematic technical development with the filming of a dance documentary in 3D. Through PINA, Wenders has rendered contemporary dance accessible to the general public, considering how controversial Bausch was as a choreographer, framing images in an inviting way that draws viewers closer instead of alienating them without compromising the potent effect of the dance.

PINA interlaces performance footage of Tanzteather Wuppertal with interviews Wenders conducted with Bausch’s longtime dancers. Devoid of plot, narration, and chronological structure, what began as a work about Bausch turned into a work dedicated to her. Upon asked on his most memorable moment of the film, Wenders commented it was towards the end of the shooting process when he realized the great accomplishment of 3D as its capacity to show volume and to take audience into the world on screen in a much more immersive way as never before. The idea of PINA came about rather unexpectedly in 1985 when Wim Wenders was deeply moved by his first encounter with Pina Bausch’s “Café Müller” in Venice. Five minutes into the show, Wim found himself weeping helplessly, overcame by an emotion he had never experienced at a staged performance. His body understood instantly enough what was being enacted well before his brain could interpret what was happening on stage. Out of the first meeting with Bausch after that revelatory experience, Wim decided that he would one day make a film together with Pina.

That one day lasted a good 20 years. At the beginning, Wenders had no idea how to film dance even after studying all sorts of dance films. Compared to the dancers who are imbued with such freedom, energy, physicality and vivacity, Wenders found the cameras to be at a loss in front of the stage, himself equally clueless on how to capture Bausch’s repertoire appropriately on film. Whatever he imagined would fall short in reality as he felt there was an invisible wall between what he could do and what Pina’s dancers were achieving on stage. What could be put on screen falls severely short of the same excitement one experiences at a live performance. Up till then, dance is known to be a language all on its own, occupying space which is exactly what film lacks in its representation. Space has always just been imaginary on film. Cameras have been thrown out of windows, put on planes, helicopters, cars, rails and cranes but the result would always be nothing more than the compression of space onto a two dimensional screen. On conventional film, an audience could merely look into an aquarium wherein the dancers are the fish, but Wenders craved to be in their element –to be in the water. More than just a distanced spectator, Wenders wanted to be in the same realm as the dancers.

For many years, Wenders was deterred by the inadequacy of film to translate Bausch’s unique art of movement, gesture, speech and music onto screen. He needed a medium that would interpret dance succinctly through Bausch’s eyes, deploying her language to the fullest. The more he looked through the history of dance film, the bigger his problem became. Bausch understood because she had been involved in a couple of recordings of her work and she knew that something did not really draw together between film and dance. She could relate to that invisible wall that Wenders referred to but was not discouraged by it. She was confident that together, she and Wenders would find a language for how to film dance.

Prior to PINA, Wim Wenders had been known in the field to have pioneered digital technology “out of necessity,” in his 1997 groundbreaking documentary THE BUENA VISTA SOCIAL CLUB on Cuban music. Necessity again brought Wenders to chance upon 3D when it came to chronicling Pina Bausch’s legacy. The Eureka moment came for Wenders when he saw Catherine Owens’ and Mark Pellington’s 2007 concert documentary U2 3D about the Irish Rock band’s concert film in 3D. Seeing that film opened a huge pathway for Wim as it gave him a way into the missing space, a way to see dance from the inside out, which was particularly useful in exploring Bausch’s oeuvre which was less concerned about aesthetics than it was about life, sorrow and love, all the frailty that a human embodies. 3D became the perfect tool for Wenders to express Bausch’s artistic motifs through the language of the film. Only by incorporating the dimension of space could Wim bring her work succinctly into film.

In early 2009, Wenders, together with Bausch and the Tanztheater Wuppertal, began the phase of actual pre-production of the film. After half a year of intensive work, and only two days short of the planned 3D rehearsal shoot, Pina Bausch passed away suddenly. Shocked and grief-stricken, Wim Wenders halted all preparations, convinced that the movie could no longer proceed without her. However, after two months of mourning, the dancers who were just about to start rehearsing the pieces selected for the film approached Wenders and convinced him to continue the project. After all Bausch was more than the main character, she was the reason itself to make the film. Her piercing gaze lingered on the movements of her ensemble and every detail of her choreography is very much still alive and distinctly inscribed onto their bodies. Despite the devastating loss of Bausch’s departure, it became even more urgent and crucial to record her works on film.

Since then, Wenders changed the whole concept of the film radically from a joint film co-directed with Bausch to a tribute for her. It was only through these dancers that Wenders was able to take the audience into the world of Pina Bausch. More than Wenders, the dancers needed desperately to realize the project for they needed to find a way to say their goodbyes to Bausch. She had passed on so abruptly that none of them were able to do that in person. Wenders realized then that he himself wanted to thank Bausch and bid her goodbye. The film was now the only outlet to do so. Mounting Bausch’s dance on film became more important for the living than as homage to Pina Bausch.

Over a period of time Wenders and the dancers selected several of Bausch’s repertoire that put together, would make a fitting tribute to her. Wenders stuck by the ground rules Bausch had established: no interviews, no biographical data, just the work. Bausch didn’t want the film to be about herself, about her childhood or how she learned to dance – she just wanted it to be about the work. Although Bausch had never seen 3D, she was very adamant that her choreography be directed to the audience. Crossing the border between the stage and the viewer is an important part of her choreography where the dancers are constantly engaged with the audience, even physically coming down the stage. It has always been important for Bausch that her pieces are completed first in the direct senses and feelings of the audience. Wenders was given the permission to shoot from left and right and center and high and low, but if possible, no reverse angles. As much as Wenders and his team strived to conquer the third dimension, they hope to avert the audience’s attention to their very conquest of space at the same time. As the camera glides into the dance space like a virtual participant in the action, the plasticity should not call attention to itself, but should make itself almost invisible, so that the dance assumes its primacy and becomes even more evident.
Wenders’ use of the 3D technique is tantamount to the success of PINA; he is fully aware of the seduction of 3D to have objects flying and people moving into the audience space but chooses instead to exploit the technique just enough for the bodies to be voluptuous and movements to be organic, as if a live theater stage is enacted right before the screen’s borders. For the unique requirements of the shoot of PINA, Alain Derobe, the film’s stereographer, developed a special 3D camera rig mounted on a crane. To create the depth of the room the camera has to be positioned between the dancers, close enough to follow them and to literally dance with them. Hence each film crew member had to internalize the choreography by knowing exactly where the dancers would move so the camera would not be in their way.

It took a little over two years to prepare and a year to shoot PINA. In addition to excerpts from the four productions of “Café Müller”, “Le Sacre du printemps”, “Vollmond” and “Kontakthof” which Pina Bausch has originally intended to include, Wenders has carefully selected archive footage of Bausch at work as well as short solo performances by the dancers of the ensemble. To achieve this as a means of expressing their memories of the choreographer, Wenders employed Bausch’s distinctive method of questioning as choreographing where she would have her dancers answer her posed questions not in words, but with improvised dance and their own body language. Wenders filmed these different solos, innovatively inserted in the 3D world of the film as a third element, in numerous locations in and around Wuppertal, where the dance company has been based for the last 30 years as a way of recognizing that a dance can make itself at home anywhere.

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To date, PINA has been shown all over the world and grossed $20 million (U.S.), drawing huge audiences from all walks of life. The film went on to garner multiple international film awards including an Oscar nomination for best documentary feature. PINA has opened up Bausch’s work to countless audience who would otherwise never had the opportunity to experience it firsthand, not to mention even heard of her name. Tanztheater Wuppertal is currently preparing a performance of 10 of Bausch’s repertoire to take place in London in conjunction with the Olympics 2012. It is by far the company’s biggest performance commission in 30 years. Wenders is convinced that documentary as a film genre will be uplifted to a whole new level by 3D and the fact that this new language is now no longer a tool for big budget studio movies alone. As much as dance theatre on film in 3D is a challenge, it heralds the future of dance as a widely accessible art form. With such kinesthetically visual sensation more powerful than any intellectual reflection, dance on film has braved a whole new frontier with 3D.


  1. Corliss, Richard. “Wenders’ Pina: Dance Crazy.” TIME Entertainment: What’s Good, bad and Happening, from Pop Culture to High Culture. N.p., 29 12 2011. Web. 4 Mar 2012.
  2. Keefe, Terry. “Wim Wenders on Pina: Capture the Spirit of a Dance Legend with 3D.” HUFF POST ARTS . N.p., 19 12 2011. Web. 4 Mar 2012. .
  3. Lane, Anthony. “Theatre on Film.” The New Yorker. N.p., 19 12 2011. Web. 4 Mar 2012. .
  4. Melnik, Meredith. “Director Wim Wenders on Filming the Work of Pina Bausch in 3D.” TIME Entertainment: What’s Good, bad and Happening, from Pop Culture to High Culture. N.p., 22 12 2011. Web. 4 Mar 2012. .
  5. Rosenberg, Douglas. “Video Space: A Site for Choreography.” The MIT Press: Leonardo. 33. 4 (2000): pp. 275-280.
  6. Quill, Greg. “Wim Wenders reinvents 3D in epic dance film.” Turn up Your Downtime. N.p., 09 09 2011. Web. 4 Mar 2012. .

Danzon by Pina

Solo part by Pina Bausch in Danzon, 1995

“There is a quiet small fish, it’s moving very fast, up and down. The camera kind of follows but what happens if you watch, it looks like I’m moving. I’m standing on the spot, and actually, suddenly I move. I go very down suddenly I go very up, but I’m standing still. This is…very nice…I think, this movement, like I’m flying there or I’m in the water, I’m there too…” (Pina Bausch, 2006).

Pina Bausch (hereby referred to affectionately as Pina) surprised her audiences in 1995 with a rare appearance onstage for a solo in Danzon. She dances standing still against a huge projection of moving fishes. Moving in slow motion as if joining the fish underwater, Bausch stands somewhat discreetly, continuously reaching her longing arms upward and outward, then recalling them back near and around her torso. Her hair was drawn tightly back and she was dressed all in black—trousers, shoes, a top with a deep v-neck and tight sleeves to just below her elbows. In the recent performance of Danzon on 25-26 November 2011 in National Arts Centre, Ottawa, Pina’s solo was performed by a male dancer, one of the newest members of the Tanzteather Wuppertal. This decision speaks a lot about Pina’s investment in new talent and her fluid definition between masculinity and femininity.

Pina danced with her feet rooted to the floor as a still point above which the rest of her body—the upper torso, neck and arms floated in a smooth and continual flow. Her head responds to her initiating arms in an affectionate way. Her left hand gently pushed her perched head to the side and upwards. Her folding and unfolding movements seemed to turn things inside out and back again. The inward and outward rotation of her arms facilitates movement on the horizontal plane. Her constant change in the flow of shape can be described as folding or closing towards the centre or unfolding, opening out from the center. Her arms are always handling space in Laban’s term, gathering it toward the body or scattering it away from her body—movements of folding and unfolding, possessing and repulsing, sharing and excluding alludes to the organic cycling of outward and inward, the alternation between self and other, the dueling desires to reach out and to withdraw inwards. The subtle interplay among arms, neck, head and chest defines a lyrical movement style that is quintessential of Pina. The genius of Pina shines through in the blatant juxtaposition of extremes: beneath the mammoth fish, a frail figure stands emanating the smallest and gentlest gestures. What Pina does is extremely simple but it achieves a very powerful postural effect.

Pina raises her arms forward and overhead, spreads them to the side and gradually lowers them. By doing so, she delineates the spatial zone of her arms as if surfacing from the water. When she circles her head around her neck, she describes the spatial zone of her head like a fish frolicking underwater. Laban contends how “space imagination (intent) and spatial power (spatial initiation) enliven the muscle and transmit the intent to move skeletal parts… When we look at the expression of a pulling muscle, we see that the smallest quiver is as significant as the largest leverlike movement” (Bartenieff, 229). Bausch navigates her arms and head with such concise intention that she requires very minimal movement vocabulary to achieve her narration. Her spatial intent and initiation in each movement sequence is persuasive enough to yield the visual illusion of her moving in water.

The combination of one-dimensional and diagonal directions in her feet opens up the body for easy three-dimensional turning away from and towards itself, as well as for extending and contracting movements in all directions on the vertical and horizontal planes. Pina’s feet, rooted to the ground with weight evenly distributed, provides resiliency for her occasional weight shifts. Her weight shifts back and she sinks into the back leg as she indulges her head in a full rotation. Her groundedness is coupled with precise use of the upper body parts. Her arm movement leading the spatial patterns of the upper body is not merely a peripheral move. Supported by a central initiation and the groundedness of her feet positions, Pina maintains balance even as the body weight shifts for a release of energy through her head rotation.

Pina’s body is relaxed enough in readiness for transition into the next movement phrase. The dynamic alignment of her body forms a connectedness that allows her movement impulse to flow through her body in such a way that complete activation can be realized most efficiently without unnecessary exertion and stress. Still, Pina is constantly renewing her awareness of the causes of tensions, both internal and external: the spatial intent, the interchange of opposing forces, effort combinations, and relationship to the physical and emotional environment. “Delineations of character and mood are evoked by their rhythmical associations with the body tensions they reflect” (Bartenieff, 71). Her meditative form of dancing can be achieved even without music due to her sensitivity to the rhythms of body tensions and her indifference to rigid, symmetrical rhythmical patterns. Her movements not bound by metricality have a free, irregular time-rhythm leading to more expressive and dynamic interpretation. “Rhythm is not just a duration of time, accentuated by stresses. It is also the result of the interaction of Effort combinations with variations in spatial patterns. It is not just the activity that identifies the behavior but it is the sequence and phrasing with their distinctive rhythms that express and reinforce verbal and emotional content” (Bartenieff, 73).

There is a constant recurring theme in Pina Bausch’s dances, that of circularity and repetition. In this solo, the sequence pattern of ABBCA proves her predilection for ending the way a piece begins or a return to the origin. The phrases are arranged in such a way each exertion is followed by recuperation before the next exertion in another phrase. Exertion-recuperation rhythms are inherent in preparatory action and main action sequences. An arm swing away from her body represents the exertion phase and toward the body as recuperation. The former action can also be seen as preparatory in its swinging out towards space and the latter, a condensed movement close to the body as the main action. When performed in repetitions, Pina’s phrasings of exertion and recuperation can be rather monotonous but it can also intensify the response to a mundane gesture which somehow always manage to accumulate tremendous emotional impact.

Pina’s spatial intent, rhythmic flow, initiation, exertions, recuperations,—all enrich the continuous floating effort as subtly exerted in her gestures. As a basic effort, her floating is flexible, sustained and light. It is also slow and tends to lack direction, even to the point of aimlessness. Pina floats like a fish underwater to exude buoyancy and weightlessness in action—spreading out, expanding, indulging and going with the flow. Interestingly, the multi-lateral counter-tensions produce a hypnotic kind of sustainment in time and space.
Of all the inner attitudes, the Dreamlike Mode of Flow-Weight best describes Pina’s incomplete efforts or mental efforts preceding actions. Bausch’s aura is haunting because she is engaged yet ever so remotely. Her figure is frail and her eyes veiled as she strokes her skin and waves her arms as if slipping away. Her inward gaze betrays a mind that is constantly preoccupied in thinking yet not completely unaware of the space around her and the sense of her own body. She senses her airy and delicate weight, creating light impact using fine touches, neither rushing nor delaying in her own leisurely pace. Pina’s ability in externalizing her inner participation makes her performance so engaging as it requires a synthesis of both kinesthetic and thought processes to be functioning simultaneously at different levels of consciousness.

In Effort terms, Pina’s performance lends its spellbinding effect to her choice of not using Time with Weight; she only uses Direct or Indirect Space and shades of Weight with variations in Flow. In the Spell drive, also referred to as timeless drive, space and weight become dominant and stabilizes the movement. Without time’s sense of urgency or delay to loosen the stability, the steadfastness of space and weight becomes inevitable. With the easing in of flow, a spell-like intensity is created in the movements. In the last phrase, Pina saunters offstage waving reticently at and beyond the audience, perhaps hinting to the audience how her spell will linger even after she is gone.