Mongolian art and culture. Mongolian dance
INFORMATION FOR TRAVELERS
MONGOLIA ARTS AND CULTURE
Mongolian dance began as a ritual performance imitating the movement and
manner of deities, mystical creatures and legendary heroes. Shamanist perception
of the surrounding world and worshipping of Mother Nature influenced the style
of ancient dancing, as well as the shape and pattern of clothing and
The great variety of folk dancing has been enriched by clans, tribes and
generations of performers. Besides folk dances, there were special palace dances
and religious ritual dances.
Organized professional dance performance dates from 1924. The
establishment of the State Central Theater in 1931 opened a new era for
professional and career dancing. In 1941, the Army dancing branch was formed,
and in 1956 European dance began in Mongolia. The first generation of the
Mongolian ballet dancers were trained in the USSR. B. Jamyandagva was the first
ballet master of Mongolia and is the father of the national ballet.
The State Theater of Opera and Ballet was founded in 1963. Since then,
over 20 world classics including "Swan Lake, "Nutcracker", "Romeo and Juliet",
"Giselle", and "Don Quixote", and more than 20 national classics have been
performed on the Mongolian stage by national dancers.
With the democratic changes in Mongolia beginning in the 1990s, a new generation
of dancers are introducing modern dance. Despite the strivings of young talents,
there are many obstacles to the development of Mongolian modern dance to an
international level. They still face lack of experience, financial shortcomings,
poor management of foreign relations, etc.
It is worth mentioning the traditional
religious ritual dance "Tsam" as an internationally popular Mongolian
performance. It is an ancient mixture of theater, dancing, ritual ceremony and
of folk tales. Its uniqueness had been highly appreciated in Great Britain,
Germany, France, Skandinavian countries and many other parts of the world.
TSAM - RELIGIOUS DANCES
The ancient religious mask dance, or Tsam, is a significant religious
ritual which reflects Buddhist teachings through images. It is a theatrical art
performed by skilled dancers wearing magnificently ornamented costumes, which
represent characters of different holy figures and devils, animals, and people.
Through story, music, and dance, the wide range of personalities of the
characters are depicted. To symbolize positive and negative attributes,
characters from popular stories, and animals such as the Khangarid (lord of
flies), lion (the king of wild animal), stag (the beauty among animals), crow
(the soothsayer) and various domestic animals are immitated. Furthermore, the
colors and decoration of the costumes are clues as to the nature of the
personalities of the characters.
Tsam mask dancing is included in the art form called "Doigar," which
embodies independent imagination, one of the ten kinds of wisdom according to
ancient Indian philosophy. The Tsam dance ceremony was first introduced to
Mongolia in the 8th century, when the famous Indian Saint Lovon Badamjunai was
invited to Mongolia to sanctify the construction of the first Tibetan Buddhist
temple, Samya. From that time, the Tsam dance was performed following the
traditional teaching of Nyambdeyan, and during the 16th century, it became
popular in Dash-Ihum temple Uigien Namjra and other places. Eventually, more
than 500 monasteries of the 700 Mongolian monasteries had their own local
variations of the ceremony.
There were two kinds of tsam dances. "Mil Bogdo" Talking Tsam died out, but the
Geser tsam, famous for its elaborately rich decorations, remained. An example of
the Geser tsam was the most popular tsam in Mongolia, the "Jahar tsam " or "Erleg
Nomun Khan Tsam." It was first performed in 1811, and told the story of how the
disciple Yamandag destroyed the aggressive Erlegs' mettalic citadels, thus
In "Khuree Tsam" or the "Tsam of the Erleg Nomun Khan," a total of 108 costumes
we worn, including 21 diciples and dieties, such as Congor, Namsrai, Combo,
Ochirvaany, Jamsran, Lham, and Damdinchoijoo. This tsam was staged every year on
the 9th day of the last summer month, and was an important ceremony.
The person who choreographed the first tsam dance after the establishment
of Erdene-Zuu monastery in Kharkhorin (Chinggis Khaan's capital city) was a
Mongolian. Folk art and native wisdom played an important role in the production
of the individual Tsam dances. Song and dance, music, decorative arts, and other
kinds of folk art are included in the Tsam ceremony.
Despite the fact that the Mongolian Tsam dance was based on Indian folk
art and was popularized in Tibet, it was highly developed in Mongolia. For this
reason the Mongolian-Tibetan tsam dance, the Geser and Nomun Khan fancy-dress
tsam, and Mil Bogdo's Talking Tsam will have a permanent position in the history
of the world's theater arts.
Twisted, distorted "snaky people," or contortionists, perform the type of
classical Mongolian dancing probably most familiar to people outside Mongolia.
The "Bielgee" dance, or dance of the body, is particular to the people of
western Mongolia. It is performed to the music of Mongolian national musical
instruments, such as the morin khuur (horsehead fiddle) and the yochin (similar
to the xylophone.) Bielgee is traditionally performed on the rather limited
space before the hearth, so the dancers make practically no use of their feet.
Instead, the dancers principally use only the upper part of their bodies, and
through their rhythmic movements express various aspects of their identities,
such as sex, tribe, and ethic group.
Bielgee is a descriptive dance, actually a pantomime, with the dancer acting
several scenes from everyday life of herders, such as milking the cow, cooking,
hunting, etc. Originally, Bielgee was improvised, although the themes were set.
Only much later did it become strictly regimented compositionally, with a firmly
established sequence of scenes. Also, over time, Bielgee was performed in a
variety of locations, including festivals in herders' tents, ceremonies by local
dignitaries, and monasteries.
The first part of the Bielgee dance, called the Elkhendeg, is ritually
solemn, with the dancer slowly spreading his arms, gracefully waving his hands
and moving his shoulders. In the second part, called the Joroo Mori, the
character of the dance suddenly changes. The body rhythmically swaying, the
dancer's movements become light and challenging, in imitation of the gait of a
Dances imitating the gait of a horse, such as the Shonon khar and Jamal khar,
are in general very popular amongst the Derbets, Bayads, Torguts, Khotons and
Zakhchins of western Mongolia. Each nationality, however, performs them in its
own way. The Bayads, for instance, dance on half-bent legs, with the lower part
of the body motionless. The Zakhchins squat as they dance, with the body
inclined forward. The ability to dance without using one's feet at all is the
ultimate achievement in the art.
Another popular Western Mongolian dance is performed with cups. You may come
across old men and women in the countryside who will tell you with fascination
what magnificent dancers performed it in the past when it was very much in
vogue. They balanced cups full of water on their heads without spilling a single
drop. The dance varies depending on whether the cups are balanced on the head,
hands, or knees. The Derbets, Zakhchins and Torguts dance with the cups on their
heads and the backs of their hands, while the Bayads balance the cups on their
knees. Significantly, only males danced with cups on their knees. The dancers
squatted as low as possible, spreading their legs apart to the width of their
shoulders, which was thought improper for females to do. In olden days, the
dance with cups on the knees was performed on festive occasions, such as feasts
and wedding parties.
An interesting tradition arose in the past in connection with the cup dance.
A group gathering in a ger on a festive occasion formed two teams and held a
dancing competition. They usually started with the cups on the palms of their
hands. Then they danced with cups on their heads and on their knees, which was
much more difficult to do. Those who had spilled the least water from their cups
were proclaimed the winners.
Each dance is distinguished by extraordinary flexibility, composition, and
color. When examining the dances, it is useful to recall that the traditional
manner of performing Bielgee and other dances has been handed down from
generation to generation and reaches us in a somewhat modified form.
Modern dance emerged in Mongolia in the early 90's. "Arabesque" dance center
and "New Dance" groups are the pioneers of this art form in Mongolia.
Academic Theater of Classical Art established in 1931 in the "State Central
Theater." It was a beginning that would produce one of the biggest professional
organizations in Mongolia. Since the 1940s and 50s the theater has been training
its own specialists in Mongolia.
On the 15th of May in 1963 "State Opera Theater" made its opening ceremony
with P. Tchaikovsky's opera "Evgeny Onyegin".
Since then, for over 40 years the theater has been carrying the honorable
task of presenting national and classic opera and ballet to its public.
During this time they have performed more than 30 classic and national operas
- "Evgeny Onyegin,"
- "Queen of Spades" by Tchaikovsky,
- "Chio-chio san,"
- "Othello," by Pucini,
- "Prince Igor" by Borodin,
- "Carmen" by Bizet,
- "The Barber of Seville" by Rossini,
- "The Magic Flute" by Mozart and more than 30 ballets like,
- "The Nutcracker," "Sleeping beauty,"
- "Swan Lake" by Tchaikovsky,
- "Flame of Paris," "Fountain of Bahchisaray" by Asaffiev, "Don Quixote"
by Minkus, and "Spartac" by Khachiturian.
The theater regularly takes part in competitions and visits other countries
with performances. For example, they successfully organized "Mongolian Opera
Day" in 1981 in Ulaan-Ude and in Alma-Ata (Russian cities), and in 1999 in Ulaan
Ude. In 2001 there are plans to organize Mongolian opera day in Japan.
- Mongolian Art and Culture. //www.mongolart.mn
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