Demystifying and re-familiarity
Act 2; 牦牛舞 Miaoniu wu Dance of the Yaks
One advantage of pilgrimage by straddle – the journey TO Tibet actually takes place in a far-away para-Tibet, in the Aba hillcountry of N Sichuan – is that it allows alleviation of fear, of supersanctimony, the sort of emotional freezing up that (in alternation with pure contempt) tends to set in when a far-travelling Chinese enters the proximity of the TRUE Tibetan venue: the Monastery. In the simulacral space of the Jiuzhaigou Threatre, there are no saffron-cloaked monks, no candle-dazzled abbeys, no sounds of prayer to compel decision or reaction: the narrative can thus be interrupted by dereverencing interludes: Tibetan languaged jesting and shouting in fact takes over the stage for 5 minutes at the end of Act 2, but becvause it is pure farce, the illusion is created that the words are perfectly understood, indeed even perhaps recitable by the Sinophonic audience.
I have here borrowed flyalen’s much underattended remarkably clear clip showing an uncharacteristic bout of farce: a herdsmen (Tenzing – all the cast are Tubetan) is frantically trying to (re) gain control (shepherd that he is) over a herd of badly misbahaving yaks. Who incidentally walk easily upright and converse readily in Tibetan – not your ordinary Yak. Success only comes when the promise of a xianzi beat kick-dance induces the chief yak to pull the other into line – for what yak does not enjoy dancing. By the end of the scene all, indeed, are swaying happily side to side in a parody of the dance in question, but all seem at least happy, no more shouring.
But this is more than slapstick: it is (if only temporary) nullification of totem and exorcist. One notes that the stage is backdropped with a strand of very high poles bearing the long-horn buffalo skulls that orchestrated Yang Liping’s death in Yunnan Yinziang (above). Are we meant to infer that they are harmless, silly? Then, too, is the manner of the yaks’ carriage and dancing. A reference is here, I think, being made to the murderous stags who carve or slice the infant corpses in the Vajrahana rite we see in my post of Jan 6 2012: te yaks indeed look neck up more like reindeer, and their eery, yetti like waltzing deepens the association. If I am right about this, Yang and whoever else designed the scene are pretty clearly out to de-spook “Tibet” as a extrusion of Bon religion; something one suspects is necessary if audiences are to leave their seats with a feeling they have somehow allow a bit of Tibetan culture inti their souls.
Yaks vs Reindeers: Hotel New Hampshire’s Bear Act in “Lhasa”