300 Hours of Digital Dance

About Bhutan

The Honolulu Academy of Arts (HAA) has gifted a video archive of over 300 hours of high-definition footage on chham (Buddhist ritual dances) to the Ministry of Home and Cultural Affairs yesterday at the National Library, Thimphu.

The gift, presented to the Home Secretary by Mr Gerard Houghton, the official representative from the academy, comprised two major components.

One is a specially designed viewing station to be housed in the National Library Archives enabling the complete set of dances to be accessed and studied in greater depth by dance researchers and interested parties. The second component comprises two complete sets of camera equipment to continue and expand documentation of dances in the Bhutan Dance Access (BDA) database archive.

The documentation, which consists of footage from about 20 tshechus, was done between 2004 and 2007 by Core of Culture of the HAA, Hawaii, a non-profit US organization, under the name “The Dragon’s Gift Exhibition Project.” This database brings the significance of chham to light.

A custom-built database was designed for capturing all the dances and movements by the director of technology, Gerard Houghton. Another copy of the dance archive has been kept at the Dance Division of the New York Public Library for the Performing Arts (the world’s largest archive of original documents and films on dance). They used two video cameras to capture the dances, from overhead and side angles.

Mr Gerard said, “This database has all the details of the dances, costumes, their significance, locations, founder of the dance and the history, for easy access. Culture is dance and dance is culture. The dances of Bhutan are special and do not exist anywhere else in the world. This database will help recognize this unique treasure and preserve it since Bhutan is at a crossroads. It will make sure that if this treasure ever perishes, it can be revived.”

Core of Culture has organized many workshops over the years for monks, independent filmmakers, researchers and members of the Royal Academy of Performing Arts. They taught theory and techniques of dance preservation, non-invasive production techniques, capturing dances on videos, digital database, technical scouting, production design, video production and camera works.

The Secretary of Home and Cultural Affairs, Dasho Penden Wangchuk, said, “It is a wonderful work of art and a gift presented to us. Besides being a utility, it will help more researchers and thus our culture will be carried forward.”

Core of Culture donated almost all 30 pieces of equipment they used during fieldwork to Bhutan so as to help preserve and carry out further documentation of dances.

A committee to study the whole video will be formed for further refinement. The committee will confirm that interpretations in the video are correct although the ministry thinks there will be little misinterpretation, if any. They want the archive to be flawless as it is intended to be used as an authoritative reference, almost as a bible, the Home Secretary said.

HAA spent almost US$ 1.0 million for the project. Core of Culture will continue to provide assistance in the future to create more archives of all the historic dances of Bhutan.

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>> Original story by Bhutan Observer

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