• Features
Laba Zhaxi (1990 - ) Tibetan Culture Meets Contemporary Dance
Text and photographs by Laurent Hou

Laba Zhaxi performs the opening scene of Awareness. Awareness dancers in traditional Tibetan costumes. Dramatic sequence from Awareness. Laba Zhaxi during a solo sequence in Awareness.

CP: Can you tell us a bit about your most recent show, Jue, which can be translated as "Awareness"?

LZ: "Jue" has a complex meaning in Chinese. It refers to the idea of awareness, but a more intimate and sensory kind of perception and comprehension. For me, the performance is about the tension between our material world characterized by distractions, temptation and material desire, noise, chaos and turmoil, against awareness of eternal life that transcends boundaries as well as narrow and egotistical ideas. In the words of the Buddha: "The path of the aware person is bound to elevate his heart, in eternal life". Jue is my personal take on this deep topic.

CP: How different is it to work on this type of project?

Laba Zhaxi: Jue and Heavenly Qilian don't seem to have much in common, for sure. Heavenly Qilian is a large-scale performance meant to showcase a local culture in a very vibrant way. I directed a large troupe of dancers and singers, and we use a huge LED screen. I love working on this kind of project, but it isn't very personal.

Jue, on the other hand, focuses on my own experience and views on life. It is very subjective and intimate. The project only involves five dancers and two musicians. The design is very minimalist: We used a plain black background and few props. The lighting is also completely different: Heavenly Qilian features mostly bright light whereas Jue is rather dark.

Despite those things, the two performances share more than you might think. Even if most of the costumes for Jue are very simple, we also use some traditional Tibetan costumes for certain sequences, and a musician sings in Tibetan. Beyond that, on the cultural side, there are commonalities because I was raised in Tibetan culture, which is inherently part of me. Therefore, when I want to express myself, lots of things that come out are directly or indirectly influenced by this culture.

CP: What would you like to work on in the coming years?

Laba Zhaxi: I really want to work on "Zang Xi", a traditional Tibetan performance that dates back to the Eighth Century and combines theater with singing and dancing.


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