Press quotes

A psychedelic whirl of chanting, dancing, drums & cymbals

The Times

A rich tradition of sacred dance music and song

The Guardian

Majestic and Atmospheric

Songlines Magazine

Festival favourites whenever they venture from their exile base in southern India

Financial Times

A magical universe of reincarnation and release

The Independent

These monks reflect remarkable triumph in an adversity, which started when China’s crackdown began in earnest in 1959

The Scotsman

Exhilarating multi-layered rhythmic recitation of chants: a shimmering monument of polyphonic sonority

The Rough Guide to World Music

Reviews

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Tibetan Monks from Tashi Lhunpo Monastry

Quaker Meeting House

From 06 August 2018 to 22 August 2018

Rating: *****

Review by Jackie Fletcher

Tibetan Monks Sacred Dance

The Tibetan Monastic Dance tradition originated with the earliest Buddhist practices and has been passed down through the great Masters from ancient lineages.

Many of the dances have been codified to ensure their survival and the result is more than just the movements, gestures and sumptuously decorated costumes we see on stage. They are the living embodiment of a thousand years of philosophy and knowledge, hundreds of years of ancient wisdom wrapped up in tales of demons and the divine, chanted prayers for peace and harmony.

With our western faith in technology, we tend to dismiss both ancient cultures and traditional tales and this is a great impoverishment of our own culture. Here in Scotland, vestiges of the ‘Old Religion’ and traditional ways are still apparent in remoter regions, place names, tales and poetry, the recorded song of women cleaning fish together, but mostly these are dismissed. How do we retain their valuable knowledge and their shared ethics? Can values be passed on through gesture, music and song? Indeed, they can!

This performance is much more than mere anthropology in the flesh. Those monks obliged to remain in Tibet are now political prisoners, and those who established a new monastery in exile, in India, are working hard to keep Tibetan culture alive. And what a culture! In dance, masks, music, song, sacred chanting and debating style, their narratives are embodied, conveying not only a people’s cultural identity, but also their values.

I loved the debate! For discussions, even the youngest members of the monastery take part, and there are gestures used for emphasis, humour, even fond touching and jokes, as one monk after another is persuaded to join in. Has someone told the UN about this style?

Tashi Lhunpo Tour bring the richness of Tibetan culture to the world as part of their Thank You Year to express their gratitude to those who have supported them throughout their 60 years of exile with ‘kindness and generosity’. And it is very good to see them at the Edinburgh Festival, not only with a demonstration of their remarkable culture, but also with such a salutory expression of sentiments.

 

 

BROADWAY BABY

Tibetan Monks Sacred Dance is a special experience, not quite a religious rite and not quite a performance show as five Tibetan monks from the Tashi Lhunpo Monastery in South India exiled from Tibet give a taster of their ceremonies, prayer, chanting and sacred dance.

This fascinating experience certainly made this reviewer want to learn more about their branch of Buddhism.

The audience, a full house, are rapt as the closely shaven-headed monks in their maroon robes topped with orange wraps chant, long horns blew their low note, cymbals clashed and bells rung. It is a hugely thrilling, atonal sound, to westerners strange and exotic.

We are unsure whether to applaud, or remain in respectful silence until a female presenter arrives and encourages us to clap if we want to. Later she says to think of it as like going to a concert to hear Verdi or Fauré's Requiems, originally religious works, but performed in a secular surrounding. What we hear are only extracts. One section, the Kunrik (All Knowing) which takes five minutes or so, in reality the monks would chant, performing the 'mudras' (symbolical hand gestures) for five hours.

Luckily, the presenter explains the significance of each of the prayer sections and sacred dances that follow. Wearing an array of colourful costumes of satin-like material, multi-coloured and patterned, the monks shake beribboned sticks. The dance steps are usually slow hop steps, frequent turns with a swaying movement and hypnotic rhythm. But the most eye-catching and extraordinary feature is of course, the masks. The Sha-Ma, Deer and Buffalo Dance features full head masks, the buffalo black with bright orange eyes, the deer brown with lurid green eyes and both with horns wound round with threads. The Buffalo nods sagely whilst the Deer lowers his head coyly to one side. The most dramatic and ghoulish are the Dur Dak (Lords of the Cemetery) wearing enormous skulls with colourful fans in place of ears, grinning jaws crammed with teeth, their finger-bones and toes like claws.

We catch a glimpse of Buddhist philosophy in the Choed (Cutting) a chant to overcome self-cherishing and grasping of ignorance, the monks imagine cutting off parts of the body and feeding them to meat-eating demons and ghosts. Trumpets made from human leg bones are blown, emitting a painful cry. The demonstration of a Taksel ( Debate) – a different topic every day – appears passionate but the monks must not feel so and it ends in humour. This fascinating experience certainly made this reviewer want to learn more about their branch of Buddhism.

If you too, want to learn more, there are also workshops where people are invited to watch the monks create a Peace Mandala – a prayer pattern from coloured sand – and create for yourself prayer flag printing and butter sculpture. Learn some Tibetan language or make a dukar wheel.

By Stephanie Green  @levi

    Stephanie Green has reviewed Theatre and Dance in Edinburgh since 2011 but previously travelled widely, mainly in Eastern Europe and Russia, writing about puppetry and in Bali, shadow puppetry and sacred dance. In the 1970s, she trained as a puppeteer at the Little Angel, London and later worked at the alternative In the Heart of the Beast Mask and Puppet Theater in Minniapolis, Minnesota, U.S.A. After training at the Place, the London School of Contemporary Dance, in her 20s she then gave up dancing until starting again in her 60s just for fun. She has recently danced in a community group with Barrowland Ballet (at the Edinburgh Fringe, 2013), Oceanallover and at the South Bank, London as part of the Festival of the Silver Age. She is also a novelist, playwright and poet.