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From: Xinhua 2011-05-11 07:16:00
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600-year-old Tibetan opera survives changes

Boys wearing blue masks and bright yellow blouses make quick, whirly dance moves while girls on coronals gently wave their long sleeves, accompanied by simple drum beats.

This is a classic opening to a Tibetan opera. For 600 years it has been performed mostly by part-time farmers-turned-actors in an open space in front of festive village crowds, but now it is entering a college classroom.

Together with 17 classmates, 22-year-old Tseten Dorje has to practice this style of singing and dancing for at least two hours each day and, sometimes, for an entire whole day.

They are the first group of undergraduate students majoring in Tibetan opera at the Art School of Tibet University.

For centuries, the lyrics and melodies of the songs and dance movements in Tibetan opera were passed down from older actors to their apprentices.

Another Tseten Dorje, a 76-year-old Tibetan opera actor unrelated to the previously mentioned university student, did not enroll in a university course to learn about Tibetan opera. Instead, he learned from his parents.

He was born into a drama troupe and first went on stage at the age of eight.

"There were no textbooks on how to perform. It all depended on the memory and understanding of old actors," said the old man.

Compared to traditional teaching methods, the collegiate way of teaching the ancient art aims to not only train actors but also to foster future researchers, said Losang Choniyi, dean of the art school.

In 2008, the university opened the first undergraduate and postgraduate programs in Tibetan opera.

"Students will have a comprehensive understanding of Tibetan opera and traditional art rather than just performance," Losang Choniyi said.

Besides special training in singing, dancing, chanting and narration for Tibetan opera, the younger Tseten Dorje has taken classes on body training in modern dance, the history of Tibetan opera, music theory and Tibet's folk music and dance.

"Body training is the toughest because I started at the age of 19. It is really painful but it will lay a very good foundation for dances," he said.

[editor : ]
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