Trance-Dance & Actor-Gods: From Himalayan Storytelling to Contemporary Nepali Theate
“Nestled in Nepal’s mountain villages, traditional dance-drama forms like Ghatu use trance-like methods to tell ancient stories of local people and their gods. Ghatu dancers align in perfect motion but with closed eyes, dancing an ancient royal love story on the feast of Buddha Jayanti. The entranced states, synchronized steps, and ceremonial purpose make this dance especially compelling to study; moreover, as the root of humanity, non-commercial ritual art forms like this can inform the work of modern performing artists. As Nepal’s urban theater scene booms and its artists juxtapose Western acting against their Nepali heritage, local artists hope to forge a unique Nepali theatrical identity. However, Nepal also currently faces huge demographic shifts due to natural disasters, globalization, the recent civil war, and now the pandemic; villages are increasingly drained of their youth and thus of preservation of their cultural memory. Delicate forms like Ghatu risk total disappearance, while the urban theater scene experiences a tug-of-war between Western theater and local performance traditions.
What is the current artistic and cultural state of Nepal’s traditional storytelling forms, and what can contemporary urban artists in Nepal and beyond learn from these styles? This project explores this question and the timely conversation between traditional and commercial art. There are three core concerns. First, to develop detailed artistic documentation of and engagement with Ghatu, using the Suzuki method of actor training as a performance template by which to catalog these forms. Second, to conduct interviews that gauge how audiences experience and connect with these dances, as these cultural arts face dwindling interest and changing times. Third, to investigate the extent to which traditional art forms are relevant to and applicable in contemporary urban theater contexts through a series of workshops with urban Nepalese theater artists.
Field research in Lamjung will involve observation of training, preparation, and performance, with practical engagement when culturally appropriate. To gauge audience experience and impact, interviews will be conducted among villagers, performers, and dance teachers. Following the field research, a series of collaborative workshops will take place with artists from Actor’s Studio Nepal and One World Theatre. These workshops will explore the performance methods of Ghatu and their application to contemporary urban theater, resulting in a final showcase performance.
This research impacts Nepal in three ways: it increases access to and appreciation of Nepal’s exquisite but fading art forms; it contributes to the rapidly developing urban theater scene; and it provides important insight into rural communities’ evolving relationship to their culture. Lastly, by using an artist’s lens to document this information, this project lays the foundation for future research into Nepal’s many other dance-drama forms and their communities.”
BIBLIOGRAPHYGurung, Kishor. Ghantu: A Narrative Folk Music Tradition of Nepal. Self-published, 2020, Nepal.
Gurung, Jagman. Gurung Jati Tatha Sanskrti. Pokhara: Pokhara Center Press, 1977.— . Nepal ko Ekikaranma Gurungharuko Bhumika. Pokhara: Shree Bouddha Arghun Sadan, 1984. Lama, Tshampa Megi. The Gurung: Their Hidden History. West Bengal Gurung Development and Culture Board, 2018.
Macfarlane, Alan. “Some Background Notes on Gurung Identity in a Period of Rapid Change.” Kailash, 1989.Messerschmidt, Donald. The Gurungs of Nepal: Conflict and Change in a Village Society. Aris & Phillips, 1976. Moisala, Pirkko. “Gurung Music and Cultural Identity.” Kailash, Finland’s Academy, 1989.Suzuki, Tadashi, and Kameron H. Steele. Culture Is the Body: The Theatre Writings of Tadashi Suzuki. Theatre Communications Group, 2015.The Natya Sastra of Bharatamuni. Translated by a Board of Scholars. Third revised edition, Sri Satguru Publications, Delhi, 2014.Vatsyayan, Kapila. Traditions of Indian Folk Dance. Indian Book Company, 1976.