Fringe Review – Bardo Todel

Adelaide Fringe Event Review – 7 March 09

Do Tibetans experience death any differently to the rest of us?

Short of dying somewhere on the Asian continent at the hand (or should that be hooves?) of a rabid Yak, it is perhaps somewhat easier to ponder these questions through a profound dance/theatre performance of the key Tibetan work known (perhaps erroneously) in the West as the Tibetan Book of the Dead, more accurately named Bardo Todel – Profound Dharma of Self-liberation through the Intention of the Peaceful and Wrathful Ones.

Our psychopomp in this exploration as part of the Adelaide Fringe is Sun Li Tsuei and her ShangOrientheatre company.  Originally from the provinces of Qing Hai and He Nan in China, she emigrated to Taiwan and studied Tai Chi, Chi Gong and meditation.  In the early 80’s she traveled to Europe and studied mime under the master, Marcel Marceau, and also worked with master of physical theatre, Jacque Lecoq.

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The 90 minutes performance was punctuated between contemplative silence and chaos, a quiet death definitely not a luxury afforded to the deceased.

Rather the experience was highlighted as being a traumatic journey – the opening section “The Mother” dealing with the shock of the Self coming to terms with death, and recounting those experiences of life and family that one uses to define oneself.  But are we the sum of our experiences or something more?

In these intermediate realms of Hell, the musicians infernally drummed and facilitated an alchemical “Dissolution” – with the shutting down of the five senses expressed in defined but dramatic movement, leaving the soul in a purgatory of ‘just being’.  The seeming paradox of existence without sound, sight, taste, touch and spacial comprehension.

An emergence of a single candle flame, a connection to a Source in the “Void”, seemingly provides an afterlife of paradise familiar and expected, reclothed with resplendent understanding and integration.  But even amongst the Western Hermeticists who dealt with similar themes – the initial Mysterium Coniunctio can be unstable, less than permanent.  For within the Wheel of Birth, Death and Rebirth the surety of Gods, Heaven, Life Eternal can become a chimera for those still bound to the Wheel, caging the free spirit back into the prison of physicality, manifestation and remergence through the birth experience into a new life.

Maybe because I am familiar with the themes, the performance projected very clearly, but I do not think the absence of word and detailed narrative put the esoterically unfamiliar at a disadvantage.   The strength and stamina of the performers spoke loudly through their body language and use of space, and conveyed the wisdom sought.

Perhaps the dissolution and deprivation of some of our own senses in order to understand the deeper message is not at all inappropriate?

Jonathan Mar 8th 2009 09:47 pm Cabaret,Culture,Events,Music,Reviews No Comments yet Trackback URI

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