Referencing or Reproducing? Dancing about South Asia..

Zhu Zheqin and He Xuntian in S. Asia

This preface takes us to our main subject: the purposes implicit in the much discussed “Musical Pilgrimage” (2006) documentary which takes “China” back, after a long respite, into play with S. Asian music and dance culture.

To slightly simplify, we are told (from behind the CCTV screen) that there was no intent to learn or reproduce India’s traditional dances.

Which (the latter, that is) in context turns out to mean (Part 2) the vanished tradition of gypsy song and dance associated with the Rajasthan city of Jasailmar.

We shall return momentarily to that almost (completely?) lost tradition – lost, that is, within India, exported in the luggage of the “gypsy” emigrations of the 11-12 the century. But first, one must ask why the choice to pursue a ghost? A ghost most assuredly so in Jasailmar, where even the cattle shun anything smacking of “gypsy” culture. To be sure, most of what the camera records in the section on Rajasthan is the chase or dreaming of that music: little or none of it is shown on the spot. But there are (surely He or Lu Chuan would have known this) other, better sites where the subject might have been pursued – best known of all being the town of Pushkar to whose camel fair(s) “gypsy” troubadors continue to flock

Is it merely misinformation? I think not, because in a pair of interviews in 2007 (?), she/they tell us explicitly that the listener/watcher must discard any expectation that “India” is being shown, in performance or perhaps even more. (The same point is made in retrospect about the Tibet tryptych of the 1990s). The idea is to work around the subject, deriving but then totally altering the music, making it thereby ultimately Chinese. We are even told (by Miss World Music herself) that the mother culture around which all (Asian?) sound is shuffled is and must remain the apex of all such world-music.

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