Sacred dances digitally documented

Gerard Houghton compiles chham database for posterity

29 December, 2008 – Thirteen centuries after it started, Bhutan’s history of sacred mask dances has now been documented and digitally recorded. The document on Buddhist ritual dances (chhams) of Bhutan was presented to the home and culture affairs ministry (MoHCA) by the technology director of Core of Culture, Gerard Houghton, on December 25 at the national library, Thimphu.

Gerard Houghton said, “It’s perhaps the most expensive documentation and digital recording of the world on dance.” He said about one million dollars was spent in the making and that it took about five years.”

“It was very difficult to capture the video because, for a few of the dances, we had to stand almost 6-7 hours,” he said. Houghton said the dances of Bhutan are unique and do not exist anywhere in the world and the document database will keep these dances alive.

The documentation was done as a part of The Dragon’s Gift exhibition project between the Bhutan government and the Honolulu Academy of Arts.

The 300 hours of digital recording contains dance clips from 20 different tsechus across the country, some of which are almost endangered today.

A copy of the document will be kept at the national library and the other at the dance division of the New York public library for the performing arts at Lincoln Centre, which is also the world’s largest archive of original documents and films on dance.

“It’s an excellent piece of work, which will help our future researchers and also push our culture forward to the world,” said the home secretary, Dasho Penden Wangchuk.

About 30 pieces of equipment, used in the fieldwork, including camera, software, hard drives, computer and a Bhutan database archive, were also donated to the government to be used by dance researchers and further documentation to be carried out by the local consultants.

Gerard Houghton was also assisted by a Bhutanese film director Karma Tshering with the side angle cameras.


By Tandin Wangchuk

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