The despoilment of the nation of Tibet is not merely an environmental tragedy. It also holds religious implications, due to the sacred status of the nation’s many natural wonders. Mount Kangrinboqê is a perfect example. The Himalayan peak is a frequent pilgrimage destination for believers of the Buddhist, Bon, Hindu, and Jain faiths. Two brothers will embark on the arduous trek in director-choreographer-screenwriter Tang Chenglong’s visually arresting and symbolically resonant short film, Gatha (trailer here), which screens today as part of the Spotlight: China! sidebar at this year’s Dances With Films.
As the two brothers slowly prostrate themselves towards Kangrinboqê, we can see the grubby modern world started to intrude on Tibet’s pristine mountains and valleys. However, from a pilgrim’s perspective, the landscape is still wild and unforgiving. They will traverse deserts, forests, and mountain ranges on their pilgrimage. Along the way, they also express the ecstatic joy of their faith through dance. Yet, there will also be sorrow, because that is very much a part of the cycle of life.
Geng Zibo and Chen Shifei dance with the striking strength and physicality, but their grace is just as evident. They are well-served by Tang’s dynamic choreography, which incorporates elements of martial arts and hip hop, but also expresses delight and wonder. Somehow, it evokes ancient mysticism, while still looking really cool and sleekly modern. Geng and Chen perform in natural settings that would dwarf most performers, but they still command the stage. Nevertheless, the staggering power of the Tibetan locales cannot and will not be denied.
Gatha is essentially an allegory, but it is deeply moving. It is also a sensory feast and a superb technical package, with special credit clearly due to “executive director” A Luo, who is also credited with the aerial photography and some of the camera work. This is one of the most ambitious and rewarding dance films in years, but it also serves as a timely reminder of what is at risk in occupied Tibet. Very highly recommended, Gatha screens this afternoon, as part of the Spotlight: Kids from China short film program, during the 2018 Dances With Films.