A whisper louder than a scream

Elizabeth Bell: Hanging onto the tail of a goat

Tsering Tsewang, Hanging onto the tail of a goat. A Tibetan Journey

Tsering Tsewang, Hanging onto the tail of a goat. A Tibetan Journey

Hanging onto the tail of a goat. A Tibetan Journey is not just another migrant story. Tibet has been decimated. Its people scattered. Its beliefs increasingly embraced in the West. To be Tibetan has a certain cachet and thus, with great anticipation and generosity, the full house at the Gasworks Theatre received Tsering Tsewang’s poignant but playful solo work.

The senses were delighted. On entering the space I could smell the fragrantly acrid presence of incense; hear the near, far, approaching ring and clang of bells—a different tone for each goat in the herd; and hear also their bleats and cries and stampings. Around the stage a circle of instruments and effects: a Tibetan lute, a drum hanging in space, cymbals, a flute, banners suspended and emblazoned with that eternal knot, ritual beakers, a small silvery white shawl. Towering behind, a huge greenish projection of the sacred Mount Kailash. The form of a man appeared in the core of the mountain, moved slowly towards us as a deep chant of invocation—“May Tibet be a Zone of Peace”—emerged and filled the space.

Writer Jan Cornall has worked with Tsering’s stories to produce a cyclically anecdotal (perhaps overly long) reflection of this man’s life. The tale loops between recollections of a happy child on the cold desert plateau of Tibet, to a refugee fleeing the Red Chinese, to the student of Buddhism and musical monk in Dharmsala, to migrant and factory worker in Australia. Serene and profoundly distressing visual imagery accompanies the narrative, crafted with fluidity by director Brian Joyce. Tsering Tsewang moves between each instrumental site offering us a suite of traditional and modern Tibetan folk songs, chants, invocations and dedications. He is a truly beautiful musician and it is clear that this is where his talent lies. Tsering is also an excellent mimic who amuses us with witty and no doubt accurate portraits of his beloved grandfather, an assortment of Aussie work mates and the Dalai Lama.

Hanging onto the tail of a goat uses humour and lightness to tell a story redolent with loss, injustice and suffering. As my companion observed, “A whisper can be louder than a scream.”

The jaded postmodern eye is surely confounded by this ingenuous, peaceful and honest work. There is very little theatrical drama, no tension or angst. With all the injustices and atrocities, hardships and disappointments that this man has suffered you’d expect to see anger, grief, resentment or questioning in the face of the loss of his country, wife and child. But there is none. Instead, a gentle recount delivered with respect and equanimity. Tsering Tsewang demonstrates rather than tells the practice of Buddhism and refuses hectic and exhausting emotionalism. Under floating video clouds he allows us to contemplate the paradox of happiness, injustice and impermanence. Almost infuriating, but not.

Hanging onto the tail of a goat. A Tibetan Journey, created & devised by Tsering Tsewang, Jan Cornall & Brian Joyce, performer Tsering Tsewang, writer Jan Cornall, director/dramaturg Brian Joyce, Gasworks Theatre, Melbourne, May 2-20

RealTime issue #43 June-July 2001 pg. 30

© Elizabeth Bell; for permission to reproduce apply to realtime@realtimearts.net

1 June 2001