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Sonam Phuntsok (El Cerrito) and Tibetan Association of Northern California (Richmond)

Award: $40,000 Traditional Arts Grant Awarded in 2017

To be Presented:  July 2018

Opera master Sonam Phuntsok and the Tibetan Association of Northern California are collaborating on an adaptation of the Tibetan folk opera Sukyi Nyima, a favorite among the eight traditional Tibetan operas. Tibetan folk operas combine Buddhist teachings with tales of romantic intrigue and social satire: they provide a unique opportunity for Tibetan elders to reconnect with their heritage. Inside Tibet today, authentic Ache Lhamo (Tibetan Opera) is a dying tradition as indigenous art forms are suppressed or altered to reflect Chinese styles. Meanwhile, the cultural knowledge gap in the diaspora widens as the last generation born in Tibet before the Chinese occupation is dying and subsequent generations are scattered across the globe. Younger generations, with limited experience of the music and stories, are less inclined to turn to Tibetan Opera.

This project brings together a classically trained cast, a lead artist with mastery of the form, and an organization with experience to present a modernized adaptation that will retain transmission of the Buddhist precepts of opera and that also can be enjoyed by Tibetan youth. Young people will be included in the production.

Sonam Phuntsok was born in exile in Sikkim. He entered the Tibetan Institute of Performing Arts in Dharamshala, India, at the age of 11 and spent 38 years there, where he was taught by Gen la Norbu Tsering. Sikkim was named Senior Opera Master by his teacher in 1997.  In working to sustain the tradition while in exile, he is honoring his teacher’s wishes.

The Tibetan Association of Northern California offers a school that provides language and performing arts classes along with community center programs in health promotion, youth development, and Dharma studies.