08.10.2009 80 °F
We arrived about ½ hour early at the Tashichoe Dzong (the local Thimphu dzong, residence of the King, and seat of government), joining the throngs in their best clothes, jewelry and ceremonial scarves. A few years ago a new courtyard/amphitheater was built at the north end of the dzong, the interior courtyard becoming much too crowded as population of the city grew. Some front row center seats were still open and we grabbed them.
About 15 minutes later, clowns came out to shoo the dogs out of the courtyard. They fooled around for a bit, popping the balloons on each other’s heads. Then they lined up in the middle and began to bow and prostrate as a procession of monks crossed the arena.
The first dancers came out in two neat lines. They were performers from the Royal Academy of Performing Arts, doing a folk dance, more of a song really, with graceful hand gestures and swaying body movements. I’m told many of the folk dances/songs are religious, and I imagine the rest to be romances; it seems appropriate for a non-violent people and many Bhutanese films are either romances or have a theme about duty to one’s family or monastery.
For the first of the true tsechu dances, a monk in wide flowing blue robes and a tall, broad brimmed black hat comes spinning out of one corner. He is eventually followed by twenty more black hat dancers, in different color robes, spinning and bowing, headdresses sometimes sweeping the ground, until they form a huge circle taking up the entire performance area. They represent Tantric yogis whose stamping drives out evil spirits as they take possession of the dancing ground. A red-robed monk with a long white scarf over his mouth and trailing down his back walks in and sprinkles water inside the circle of dancers to purify the area. The dance is repetitious, hypnotic, and meditative. The young dancer nearest me appears to be in a trance, mindful only of his every precise movement. Towards the end of their dance they spin in to a tight spiral, then out again into a still, straight line. One by one, each dancer solos himself out of the arena.
Between tsechu dances, the folk dancers perform, in a different costume each time. Meanwhile, the clowns mock their movements, or joke with people in the crowd. When a puppy wanders into the arena, one chases him out with exaggerated movements.
The second tsechu dance is a masked dance, each yellow-skirted, bare-chested dancer representing a different animal. The movements and patterns are quite similar to the first dance, but more energetic. Each dancer has a knife with which to execute evil spirits.
Our front row seats turn out not to have been the best choice, as people come and go all morning, passing in front of us.
For the third tsechu dance, the black hat dancers return, each with a large blue drum in one hand and a curved red drum stick in the other. Drums typically celebrate the victory of Buddhism.
We stay for one more dance, the Dance of the Princes and Princesses, obviously a favorite of the crowd. Two princes in large masks come out, accompanied by an old man. The clowns play a big role in this dance. First they mock the movements of the princes as they perform a short, formal dance. Then the two princesses enter with their chaperone, an old woman.
Now the clowns really move into action, taunting the princesses, chasing the old woman and trying to steal her scarf. She retaliates by chasing them with a large switch and the old man comes to her aid. The princes and princesses exchange formal dances (I think one represents a wedding), while the real action goes on around them, the old woman chasing the clowns into the crowd and the old man slapping people on the back with a small wooden sword.
When the princes leave for war, and the clowns begin frolicking with the princesses, carrying them off to a “house” represented by a cloth spread on the ground. Though the clowns carry the princesses back before the princes return from war, they are armed and suspicious and cut off the princesses noses. The princes have a change of heart and a doctor is called to sew the noses back on. Eventually, everyone is reconciled and the play ends happily.
As we leave, we notice a field of tents set up across the river and streams of people crossing the bridge. We decide to follow the crowd and find ourselves in a makeshift sea of food stalls and crude carnival games. Before we head home, Mike buys some deep fried hot peppers and I get some momos. We all pass on the dry-looking yak sausages.
For more pictures, see: http://www.travellerspoint.com/photos/gallery/users/rsherry/