In front of an ensemble of traditional musicians playing string instruments with exotic names like rawap, tambur, dutar and satar, performers in gold-laced garb twirl and swing to the choir's soulful crooning. This ancient Turkish folk art is brought to modern audiences by the Xinjiang Muqam Art Ensemble, which kicks off its island-wide tour this weekend.
Proclaimed a Masterpiece of the Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity by UNESCO, the group performs one of the world's most complex music forms, which incorporates song, dance and music.
The muqam, or performing troupe, emerged in the 16th century when Princess Amanishahan called on folk performers to collect, collate and standardize the folk art form that had been around for thousands of years. The lyrics sung are poems, folk tales and legends as well as stories about heroes, yearning and love vividly expressed through the highly-charged dances and music.
Fast-forward to 1950s Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region, an arid western province of China. At the time, there were three elderly muqam performers and only one of them could complete the performances that take 24 hours, according to Huang Yongjun (黃永軍), deputy director-general of the Department of Culture in the autonomous region who is leading the art ensemble on its Taiwan tour.
The master, in his 90s, left recordings of everything he knew and the material was edited into a canon now performed by the Xinjiang Muqam Art Ensemble.
The ensemble's Taiwan performances will also include Turpan, Kumul and Daolan, the most popular of the regional performance styles, which are named after the region's oasis towns.
What: Xinjiang Muqam Art Ensemble
When and Where: Tomorrow at 7:45pm, National Theater, Taipei (台北國家戲劇院);Sunday at 3pm, Sinjhuang Cultural and Arts Center, Hsinchuang (新莊文化藝術中心);Nov. 20 at 7:30pm, Chunghsing Hall, Taichung (台中市中興堂);Nov. 21 at 7:30pm, Chungli Arts Center, Chungli (中壢藝術館);Nov. 22 at 7:30pm, Hsinchu City Performance Hall, Hsinchu (新竹市演藝廳);Nov. 23 at 7:30pm, Yuanlin Performance Hall, Yuanlin (員林演藝廳);Tickets: NT$400 to NT$1,200 for Taipei; NT$300 to NT$600 for Changhua; NT$300 to NT$800 for the other performances, available through NTCH ticketing outlets or at www.artsticket.com.tw