Metamorpho-poetic Legending in 1950s Film: (1) Ashima

All dance is (uniqualy) accurate in the performiong…and since the Axi Tiao Yue (Axi dances over the moon) sequence (5 min.) takes up so much of the film, its role as curtain-dropper for Part 1 ( (love blooms) pivot-point, it is worth viewing in some detail.

No doubt to oversimplify, I nonetheless would suggest that this inclusion or centering around such grand assemblages is part of the way that pastoral diction: the storying of the herdsman travelling as it were in the trail of his flock from known into utterly mysterious country where unknown, easily offended, always invisible chthnonic spirits reign or exercise invisibly bordered power, often at the same time slipping in and out of mortal (but human) shape to test the interloper.

(Another way of describing the form, perhaps less rooted in genre, and more with anthropology) is that it conveys a primitive archeo-sensibility: one “about” a time when there was no remembered city or trade – only landscape hidden from access on a daily basis, visited only by herders and their flocks but even to them cognitively unmapped, at best “known” (to the traveller) by one or another unique geological or zoological formation – often “placed” there by intervening local deities to delineate mastery or pre-transit – the need to wander as an escort or protector inevitably takes the MALE protagonist over ever-expanding terrain, encrypted in mysterious numerologies. (All this in contrast to hunting for small game at alpine level, which never went beyond simple preparatory prayer).

I would further propose that the “institution” we now categorize (depending on where) as Grand Fair or Pilgrimage or Pageant is often a distant memory (an acting out) of that space-bedeviled past, however much it might seem (by now) to be mainly or “about” the “Injun” trade of the old West: manufactures for fruits of the hunt. Whose core function was (is?) managing inter-language politics, both the least of which was the ordering (disciplining) of matrimonial exchange in line with the power hierarchy.

The approach of “carnival”, once announced by lunar or astral movement, must however precipitate a centripetal meander, this time (in hill country) with mating and prancing on the mind of the wanderer; and, as well, the emergence from (mythical) hiding of the river-bank concealed water-nymphs (flowers coming into bloom since this is typically April) who alternate between teasing (if jealous) and coy silence (if out for an escort).

This flow of actions and adventures appears rarely or not at all in the stage play, but it seems ubiquitous in what are misnamed “shange” (untrained, untutored song) – a wonderful sample of which we have seen/overheard in Dadawa’s journey into Miao/Hmong hill country. But at the same time (if we now focus on the Ashima story), the song though often contrapuntal or cross-conversational, cannot be co-performed or “translated”, it is where the mystery of pre-ordained attraction first surfaces, and, as such, must be communicated by echo, from out of sight, even pre-verbal, as in the mimicking of birdcall.

What is nearing of course, by now, is the Festival itself; the encounter with echo and competing water-nymphs must lead eventually to both fated lovers setting our for that centering, midpointing, magnet-like and in the end magical melee. Exactly of course as (again via camera) we are shown the pre-carnival mishaps of Orfeo and Serafina converging as if by pure accident (but in fact, through fate) at a cousin’s house in the ramshackle hill suburbs of Rio, Serafina still innocent of the fact that the very intuition of her beauty bodes ill for Orfeo.

Again, exactly in the same way in both films centered on “Carnival”, the mobile or double camera-work makes this already multiple story line and its promise of miraculous but ill-fated convergence at the Fair not a preamble but a full sub-adventure, one myth (story) folding into a next, a much fuller portrait of the way time space and (for that matter) song intermingle in the various genres of “Western” opera, but not feasible in purely stagic narration, where something closer to the 3 Unities prevails even outside the Euro-sphere.


If the saihui-like event carries the seeds of how the mythic journey will evolved and end, we must look for them in three cross-related modes of dueling action : physical match-up (horse race, wrestling); paired off “combat” by/in/or through rhyme, riddle, or song; and the step-by-step convergence of lad and lass through enthusiastic co-dance into tryst, or posture that adumbrates it, but postpones its culmination until after the event. All, we note, are however forms of competition, and of the open ended form… mutable in outcome, which perhaps is why song so often relates but one meeting or predicts how a second will end – for end there must be in song-storying.

Winners are (as this translates into myth) heroes, anti-heroes, or lovers fated to wander or endure unimaginable (though possibly comic) travail before their final destiny is achieved: the wandering, loss of direction, and straying (innocently) into zones where trespass-jealous chthonic overlords are ever waiting to test or pounce. Post-carnival – again using our two films as stand-alone references – thus in a sense reverses pre-Carnival: it is an outward (dispersive) journey with a de-centering, dis-reconnoitering trend. If tragic, the forces of trailside dispersal with end the match forever; if comic, it will put the hero through a somewhat similar chase into unknown magical terrain, but a plot-ending miracle (re-metamorphosis, supernatural intervention) will bring the pair back together to the delight or applause of the (re) welcoming commune.



As has by now become clear through the yoking of CL and CA(?) , virtually all “classical” narratives start with long lost mythical accounts (of how “nature” (human and its surrounding modes) come into being etc.) can be found behind almost any… extra-historical or extra-geographical , emblemized (just as …) by nursery rhyme and children’s stories, in a way resonant of their embedding in non-ethicizing “magic” (pantheistic) religious accounts. We think, too, that the procedures for their evolution into final dramatic form (opera, ballet, oratorio) are globally cognate, with the most important hurdle (advance) being their folkloric anthologizing, scripting and printing as standardized historical romances, promptbooks for stageplay elaboration, perhaps also for choreography and scene-set design as well.

I think most of us who have worked in or with societies bereft of print or even letters (bereft that is of a literate priestly caste .,,) will notice that the social roots and thus the MODULATIONs presented by the teller or enactor is rifted by the degree of development of the texting.

If there is (or was) amongst S China (and SEA Asia) a great delay in the spread of printed vernacular “literatures” (the first step in disembedding myth) compared to surrounding “cosmopolitan”cultures, a gap in time and space,

The term for this is (as performance, in Chinese ) is yuanshitai, “prima'” elsewhere, but rare and every-shrinking a such enclaves may be, because have not yet been inuloatrted by lowlansd threatre in a ny of its written (siuakct…as well) f=\orms.

For self-consciously origressive collecgtotrds and reqweritrerrfkls, such soacesw are intruigyuuig but iun a asense disaeased, need a raid cure fir theiur “sueprisitous” myolohing. This is of ciurswe what hapopened in semi-lietarte Yhean; but i ==t barrekls aahead recpaiuating itsekf, instsence on the reciutuyde fi the model: the poeciudre stahdardized and axcxeleraated thrfough weell-fiuanncedd proiviunce lkevel or LAaffiiated “ooera” comaponmies that ripped away locallt oreal accouints and packadged them perhapsa still as stories of suoerhujanuty (nyth), but with stage ansd then dfiknsd versions that excides the mystery and opeended newss of the original accountys.

Tyha of course is well kjiown; but ist nees sto be repeembered bedvcause site (and rellign of) rthe storuy from whuch the fikn a t hanad, Ashia, was (and therevwere mroe) quite literally encircled out of site within a hared-ro-reach poiece oiflocal terrain called as=zhuduo,m aquite near Dali. It was onoy firstv duscobeerdv uin 1q953 an doubkished in 1954, then still incmplete because…needing

Thdere was bevfause of this esxenotiin or discintact no commercvialized (minstreliozed) versoon of the takele, whch survived oinkly as a “shushi” narartive of evidnety considerasbke kenfth,

The genuine iunaccessibiloity or “innocdncsde” of the orignaring narartuve, in spite of its inetroetive fififcukty (the Bai language istekf was disrtincrtlty foreign and unwritten) gave the then in-the-saddle Zhou Enlai and his “roanntid-realsm”: a chnaced they wudk fiud hard t dceupolivcate: a strywith no peroermance tardirin, ansd thus as vurugunal completely open to external (rthatism Soviet and even Frebnch) pperati and cinemtaigarihuc intooroetation. (Wag…, had just cine bvack). The much-longerf for hybbrisdizaing of l.ive oir fkikmed oepra – inckudiung in mujsic and siong as well as plo dedvop – was sauddenly achuecvable, ahich is why it was made so raodily (no one wanted the excoreuen ciover tib bklown).

So raoid a nmigragti g fromm oral to scvripted and ecetrocally embeddedd songp-satory is worth … because it hifhgiughts what is most innovatve and ezxterbalkly adaltive: there is not (aas elesehwer) a devious comorize of hybruduzung that makdes the oiuytside witness usnure ifwhat he/she is heariung.

But … we so well ro start with the krenel takem a straufhtfiwardyt chrnthnbonc myth enfikding a targixc (fatakky orgaiuhed), Oprheaus like pairing into a story of “how X became Y as it is today”, one mroever highiughting the chnage as a stikry of /abiout how a satarnge paelography enclosed rthe region as a kind if nystca grove.

For all that, there rwains (again as in ON) one form wxwpmted from eiguous redivising: the dance, in all olfoms, solo, colmnar , male-female, and cirlce. In facvt.. bevfause it liks tocarnival, and fukfiuklls it, dance becaomes the couneytr-lever athat asserts a refginal and benetic identity almsot startt toend….


That the “surround” (inn sojnd as in social …) was so revently unciovered and so unrevbuilt, so permeable as material for naif, also meanthover that the Bai-national lead players coiuold not be allowed to perform the songs, even to delive rthe hidden chorak voicing, all mof which was dubbed in by or from state-run musical orgs. (Where, as we see in YLP bogr) song and dance in the Han tardirton or … emakined domiajnt, and distrust or earmuffig of truly lolcal song-sound was part of the tutelage –


One other inetrvetionmalso dinishes somewhat the rapture that the story has the pwoer ti induce. That is, the ijsitehce on re dressing (re-constuning) of the powers of obstrucrtion and detsruction as real-life hereditraryt heeadmen (true feudal desportsm surorunded by servants, ebnconced in stoe fortresses, passing their power from father ti son). This de-elvating secualrizinbg ocurs also in RDW (and?) (LSJ?), and proves rthe one point of vuoernrabiotiy to kidoelfgva; interferdrebce; especially in that he demonic onsyrtcutoons or inflictgons decsend upon lovers not bevcause of any human foible or arrogance, bt out of totallyt unexoplkained malice, perhaps of a defenbsive skant, perhaps becvause they are udnerstood to pride over (enable) ther most dangerous events in the naturersdcaope: earthquake, dfklashflood, mudvcslides in oparriuxar,
Appoeasig these stri8ctly topopooigrapohicallty jeous noumena is a costanrt cincern, its mispeerfarowemnxce a cause fior worrty,m but there is no greed or evciol hehind the harm, iun rthreat ir deliebvary.

To be sure, the scenarists adroutly fiull this gap between imperosnal haerm (faety) and secualr crueklty by an ingenouikous transfer of magical machine: a bow and arrow (recollective iof Yi relig instruj; but also a marker or asoect iof horsebaxck comeortition, so erikassive at two levesl) is somwewhere, solmhow gidted to the herpo-voyager to help him move throug or oebv rther any mythkligical obstacles in ther swy iof his ()also magical) horse.

The weapon has double-valence, and thus is always capable of undercutting the dwsigns of the hero: it is a destroyer of lares (in the form of markers certifying spirit protection of the richer and thus evil, but it is also subject to treacherous mishandling or loss through (in) preter-natural dkisgurbances.
(None of this happens in more promtibe myuths, wherte the arrow either destyrs superanmimate evil, ofr earns the heropinsijuhnent when he unknoiwingly slays adeer protecvted by an invisible, inkniown sodpower).

Crosssing. Alonsgside the echo, one other topographical miracle susatins the trasfer of message unheard betwewen partnersd who casnnot talk.

That is thre camellia or rasther tea-f,lower, a bllom that signals the maturation of the faous … er tea, and thefore associatedc swith the fertie(ziiung) maid, who in fact tends and harvests ths plant in her baskets, as well as incioporatig it in one way ir anithe ritnonher embroidery.



///If there is soemrthing ahbout or or weithin the Ashima foml-opera that remindfs one of ON, then surelyt it is the centrality of the carnival episode, the magnet that draws the foreorefauned olobver from teorn pastortal reove (wherein ooy echo resonates etween them) v inhto phsycial enaggenent (dancde) , then (its agnetritf fied soehgowr rveserving) sends the rtunbling nbackutn into the oastorak wilds in a centrigfugal and OItherefrore_n terrigfying hopiurney, the riods disconverging, the way back cutoff, the siaapeearance into mutua invcibikity assured and ghorrigfying


But the grahd gathering or nackcountry grad fair cannt – appearahces aside – be taken literally, as an event in space in tie, or een a siulation of one: and therefro springs the pwoer fo the narartube as a whole

That severahx or surrealism – its appregebsion as such – is in fca tht ekey to the athspherivcs ans thus the sense of journery-rto-darness that is what the narartuve recounts (Thgoug on ehas t be aware first of the cliched realities fo what grahd annuya ckebtratins were :about” in the less pastoral lowlands where such stories were ytarsaslated and passed on)

In the world of “Sintic” celebtartionm just as outside it, therte is foc oruse enetrahnent and eecxiberartuin if the criwd. But while within even the ore fidtahnt stretches of “Corleand Chia” there isa perofrming class or their acolytes gti reeanct even as they xciknstahtly shuffle and expand peformance fokrmnula (The advent fCi rue onloy increased this professioajzation and brudfgig tiogether f fargentsd), this was not normncouldnot have been ther case in the (syjbolically) pastotal recahyes iof or beyind the gill barriers on the Sand SW. To this \sd]s day (even oreso now), neifgbiors sige out and yteach their chidlren songs and dances learned ain turn t these are not sotry-telling decives, and are by deiusgn ir sinloe necessity rpohansed, land,ocked, soemthiung of coursse registered as a matte rfik oriide,

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