Tumen Ekh

Anywhere you travel, the natives (and the well-informed expats) will tell you of what they think the local must-see attraction is. And they did not have to tell me twice to go and see the Mongolian National Dance & Song Ensemble – Tumen Ekh. Staffed with the state’s leading artists and carefully guarded as a nation’s treasure, it was the best way to learn about Mongolia’s cultural heritage.

If you would like to get a taster of the live performance, have a look at my video here and the links below.

Urtiin Duu – Mongolian long song, widely believed to have originated over two thousand years ago, and featuring on UNESCO Intangible Cultural Heritage list since 2008.
Mongol Biyelgee – traditional Mongolian folk dance, also on the UNESCO ICH list.
The very impressive throat singing, performed both a cappella and accompanied by Morin Khuur.
The long song performance, accompanied by an entire ensemble of traditional Mongolian instruments – Morin Khuur (horse-head fiddle), Bishguur (trumpet), Shudraga (lute) and Yatga (zither).
The 60-minute spectacle was divided into three parts. Here some of the more “modern” dancing, with contemporary costumes and choreography. It very much reminded me of the folk dance show I saw in Moscow a few years ago.
The traditional, richly-adorned costumes are as much a part of the performance as the carefully preserved ancient lyrics and tunes.
Contortion is an essential part of any Mongolian performance. The ease with which this lady was able to bend forward and backwards left the audience both in awe and mild discomfort.
The highlight of the evening was the Tsam Mask DanceIt is an important buddhist ritual, dating back to 8th century. The first on the stage appeared an Old White Man (Tsagaan Uvgon), the protector of herds and the giver of harvest. He doesn’t really dance – instead, he moves sluggishly on the stage, supported by his dragon head pilgrim stick. 
Although the mask dance originated in India and arrived in Mongolia through Tibet, it has been highly developed and adopted in Mongolia through ages as means of imparting Buddhist wisdom on the viewers. Here the God of the Dead Yama and the God of War Jamsran (two of the “Dreadful Gods”) are representing the demons. However, the God of Dead is, at the same time, the Protector of the Faith, adding another dimension to the complexity of the characters.
Each Mongolian monastery had a local variation of the dance, and, to this day, it is possible to see the original wooden masks at Choijin Lama Temple in Ulaanbaatar. At the back you can see Shiva – the deer-servant of the God of the Dead Yama and the Prince of the Demons.

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