World Arts West
SF Ethnic Dance Festival



GENRE: Traditional
First Appearance in SF EDF:

Chaksam-Pa was founded in 1989 by three graduate musicians of the Tibetan Institute of Performing Arts, founded by His Holiness, the 14th Dalai Lama, to preserve Tibetís unique cultural heritage in exile. Chaksam-Pa is the only Tibetan opera company outside South Asia performing Ache Lhamo and this invocation dance annually during celebrations for His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lamaís birthday and also for Losar, the Tibetan New Year. This master dance company has been based in California for 25 years, offering this unique performance artóa UNESCO World Intangible Heritageóto a world audience in hopes of keeping it alive for another generation.


GENRE: Traditional
TITLE: Ngonpai Dhon
CHOREOGRAPHER: Master Norbu Tsering
DANCERS: Nyima Gyalpo, Tsering Lodoe, Tsering Pelmo, Tashi Tsering, Tsering D. Sangpo
MUSICIANS: Tsering Wangmo, Tsering Youdon

Ngonpai Dhon is a purification dance to open the Tibetan Ache Lhamo Opera. It is adapted here for the stage not as performance, but as a precious blessing for community prosperity. To the calls of drum and crash of cymbals, local spirits of place and Tibetan deities are invoked through mantralike chants, and the characters prepare for performance.

Lying behind the mountain of Shel Drong, A-Ho - what a wonder - the Divine Juniper tree! Incense purifies the air and invites the gods, beautify the gods, spirits come from air, burn butter and bali flour. Chaksam Pa! I sing to you, May these songs and dances entice all minds towards the pure Dharma, path of righteousness.

Ache Lhamo Opera in an endangered dance-drama form, not usually seen outside of Southeast Asia. Its repertoire and performance are a UNESCO Performance Heritage. 14th-century Saint Thangtong Gyalpo is honored as its founder. He is also known as Bridgebuilder, for helping build fifty-eight suspension bridges over Himalayan rivers so pilgrims could reach sacred Buddhist sites. Prior to 1959, this sacred and secular opera traveled across the vast Tibetan landscape, imparting Buddhist history and ethics to villagers. It is now preserved in exile by artists trained at the Tibetan Institute of Performing Arts (TIPA) in Dharamsala, India. Chaksam-Pa learned the form at TIPA directly from opera master Norbu Tsering, now in his 90s, representing the last generation of teachers/performers to perform inside Tibet.

The clothing displays traditional bright colors and materials. The Ngonpa dancerís blue mask has auspicious symbols: sun, moon, and wish-fulfilling jewel. The jacket design is considered ancient and authentic and Ringa (dakinis, or female deities) wear headpieces with sacred mantras and images of protectors. The onstage setting is like that of the Potala Palace in Lhasa, Tibet, once the home of his holiness, the Dalai Lama. Ache Lhamo music is played on drum and cymbal, with the drummer leading the dancer through the repertoire. The singersí calls and motifs are complex and require years of practice, and the haunting vocals are meant to evoke an atmosphere in which otherworldly beings and spirits are present.

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