Friday, August 1, 2014

Dancing Under The Stars - the big day arrives!

It had been in planning for over a year, under the direction and guidance of theatre maker Suze Smith. Sessions in Melb, Sydney and Tilba, expertly facilitated by Suze, drew improvised movements from the dancers on the theme of a day in the life of a Timeless Land: dawn, morning, noon, afternoon, dusk, night; a piece inspired by the Australian landscape in homage to its traditional land owners. Suze chose an excellent sound track combining the music of Gurrumul, Yothu Yindi Band, with Tiddas, Stephen Page, the John Butler Trio and Heel and Toe Polka from the Bushwackers. The title of our piece, Timeless Land was borrowed from Yothu Yindi's brilliant track which provided the finale for the dance.

The dance competition was to take place at Tsegyalgar in Conway, Massachussetts, over the weekend of July 11,12,13, at the 30 Year Celebration Festival and Inauguration of the Universal Dance Mandala at Khandroling. This would include performances by Tibetan singer Tsering Lodoe and other dance groups: a Tibetan Dance Troupe from NYC, a group of Gurdjieff dancers, Namgyal Gar and Tsegyal Gar Dance troupes and the Khaita dancers. It would culminate in the Dancing Under the Stars competition on the 13th, a fun and friendly way for all the DC gars to meet across continents.

Tsegyalgar Gakyil had arranged wonderful accommodation for us at Beaver Lodge, out in the woods near Khandroling (though we didn't get to sleep in the tipi).

 Our host, Marie Stella, was most welcoming and gave lots of useful information about the area.

She even organised for a black bear to stroll into the garden one day looking for blueberries!

Not far from Beaver Lodge was Rinpoche's house where Tibetan Dancing was taking place at 5-8pm on the days it was not held at the Gonpa in Conway or the Mohawk School.

The Mohawk School (whose students were on vacation), also close by, was the location for all our activities and the retreat that was to follow the celebrations. The region is close to the famous Mohawk Trail which had its beginnings as a Native American trade route and is also known as the Trail of Tears following the forced removal of the Mohawk people from their land in the 1830s.

We had just two days to rehearse and teach the moves to Thuy Ngyuyen who had been away travelling and newcomer Nicholas Martin, who took Matt Jenning's place when sadly he was unable to travel, and be ready for our first public performance on the Friday evening!

With our rehearsing all done on the Friday afternoon at 3 pm we made the journey up the steep dirt track, past small lakes and through the wooded forest to Khandroling, for the inauguration of the Vajra Hall and the Universal Dance Mandala. Five years in the making, this impressive building stands next to the spot where Rinpoche received the Vajra Dance terma.

 The ceremony, presided over by Rinpoche with invited local dignitaries and general public in attendance, included a Song of the Vajra dance demonstration.

Then it was back to the Mohawk School to prepare for our first performance, which was a concert of music and dance open to all. Our piece got a good response and we were able to see Tsegyal Gar's wonderfully colourful routine and know we were in for some stiff competition on Sunday.

Saturday morning we were back at Khandroling for a moving consecration of the Universal Mandala led by Rinpoche with sang, serkem and gana puja, with Song of Vajra danced in costume and Tibetan dancing by the Derge dancers with everyone joining in at the end.

The afternoon gave us a little time off for exploring the picture postcard surrounds of Shelburne Falls, our nearest town (a bigger version of Tilba Tilba), where an excellent wholefood grocery and cafe (with good free wifi) was in use by DC members from all over the world.

Sunday loomed. We did our warm ups and last minute run throughs and posed for pics in the gym and the green room.

By 2 pm the auditorium at the Mohawk School was packed, with Rinpoche in prime position in the front row. To his left was the line of judges, chosen from other non competing gars. Both teams came out on stage.

Suze stepped forward to choose a card. Number 1, which meant we would compete first.

So we walked back into the wings and that was it, we were on!

By all reports it went well. You can have a look at a Youtube video here.

At different points the audience clapped along and burst into spontaneous applause. We received two standing ovations and many came up to us afterwards to say how moved they were by our dance. All agreed that the undeniable star of our troupe was our youngest member, Alicia Horner.

But the show wasn't over yet. The seventeen strong Tsegyalgar team were hitting the stage with their fabulous costumes and razzle dazzle routines. We sneaked in up the back and cheered and clapped along with the crowd.

With their uplifting performance over, there was a little time for the judges to confer and we were called back to the stage. Cristiana from Rome praised both teams and explained what a difficult choice it was. Then one by one the judges gave their scores for Namgyalgar — 8, 9, 8, 8, 9...mmm not bad, not bad at all! Then Tsegyalgar — they too scored well but with an extra 9 and a perfect 10 took the winning place by just a couple of points. A time for handshaking, hugging, congratulating and feeling relieved that it was all over!

And over it was as the event was soon eclipsed by a bigger competition, the final of the world cup, broadcast on a big screen on the stage we had just left. After the thrilling German victory, the entertainment continued.

The Derge Dancers were back again, the Gurdjieff Dancers and Tsering Lodoe. It had been a long day, but a most rewarding one. There was a sense of achievement as having pulled off something that a year before had seemed impossible. Forget the dance — simply finding a way to get there was a challenge in itself.

All thanks to Rinpoche for pushing us beyond our perceived capabilities and providing yet another way to practice together.

Thanks must also go to those who generously supported us: Tsegyalgar Gakyil, Namgyalgar Gakyil, contributors to our Melb fundraiser, as well as individual contributors.

Special thanks to Suze Smith for direction, Catherine Horner for admin, Graeme Horner for photography and video, Alicia Horner for her poise and calisthenic expertise, and all those who had input along the way including: Thuy Nguyen,  Nicholas Martin, Jan Cornall, Yvonne Cullen, Joanna Tyshing, Glenda Morgan, Matt Jennings, Peter Phipps, Lynne Geary, Pamela Oldemeadow, Barbara Robertson, Gary Delora, Grace Davis and all our oz and international supporters. Also thanks to Scott Townell for the great performance pics.

Now if you think this dancing business might just go away, think again! Get ready to sing and dance with Rinpoche every evening from 5- 8pm at the upcoming retreat at Namgyalgar North in October. Khaita - joyful singing and dancing in coming to OZ. Download the songs and vids here and get a headstart. Khaita!

Register now for the October retreat with Chogyal Namkkai Norbu, Oct 20-26.
Glasshouse Mts, QLD, on hour north of Brisbane.

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Easter Retreat

'Many of life's problems have to do with fear and attachment, the most basic obstacles to realizing one's essential nature. The ancient practice of chod is a creative and skillful method for dissolving these obstacles.Chod literally means 'to cut.' Traditionally, chod practitioners (chodpas) would practice most often in external natural environments believed to harbor harmful energy from the spirits of nature, whose provocations were incited by disharmony between the human and spirit worlds. The chodpa would travel into the mountains, chanting with drum and bell, in order to conquer the spirits with a ‘sword of wisdom' and reharmonize the energy between the two worlds.'

Namgyalgar South, near Tilba in southern NSW, was brimming with green for our Easter Chod Retreat.

Forest accommodation was in cosy vans, tents or dorms ( recently renovated and available for rentals for other groups).

 The Chod practice we do comes to us from our teacher Chogyal Namkai Norbu who began teaching it after receiving a significant dream.

Machig Labdron, a Tibetan yogini practicing in the eleventh century is the originator of several Tibetan lineages of the Chod

Our retreat was led by our very own chodma, SMS instructor Angie Gilbert who learned the Chod from Rinpoche twenty-six years ago.

Learning the drum moves is not so easy.

 But by the end of the weekend we feel like we were getting somwhere.

Meanwhile each afternoon the Namgalgar Dance Team worked on their routine

which they will take to the Dancing Under The Stars competition in Massachusetts in July

dancing off against the team from Tsegyalgar.

All that dancing and drumming builds an appetite.

Cooking on small retreats at Namg South - always a community effort.


Carlos and Luca get in on the carrot grating action.

Jan's pumpkin and ginger soup bubbles along next to Andrew's spicy spinach greens.

Madeleine's salad dressed with dukka.

Peter's spicy lentil and chorizo dish.

Our resident Frenchman Mark (could be Manu) does the taste test.

Conversations with dharma friends, always a highlight - Georgia and Gary.

Antonia declares the pumpkin soup a worthy entry into the Namgyalgar Cook Book.

 Another pic for the cookbook, don't forget to send your recipes to Glenda.

An evening performance.

 More deliciousness.

A farewell puja feast on our last day.

We leave with renewed energy, taking a little bit of Namg South home with us.

The next event at Namgylagar South is the Karma Yoga Long Weekend June 7, 8, 9.

See you there!