“Thangka,” an original dance drama highlighting the Tibetan ethnic group’s unique customs through an ancient love story, is being showcased this week at the Shanghai International Dance Center.

The plot follows a romance between a woman and a Thangka painter across three lifetimes through reincarnation.

The Thangka artist and the young woman never get together as lovers but share a passion in each lifetime for their devotion to the unique art form.

The dance drama, part of the 12th China Art Festival, was created in 2016 in Qinghai Province. Qinghai is distinct for its multicultural environment and is populated by several ethnic groups, especially by Tibetans.

The show received critical claim after it premiered in the province’s capital city of Xining. The drama was hailed for showcasing the unique history and culture of local Tibetans, and the development, process and current protection of Thangka art.

Thangka is an intangible cultural heritage that highlights the Tibetan ethnic group’s unique religion, myth, art and customs.

Usually painted on cotton or silk, Thangka is noted for its vibrant colors that survived for centuries. Some of the earliest Thangka art was discovered in the famous Mogao Grottoes in northwest China’s Gansu Province, a vivid proof of the ancient Silk Road.

The earliest art dates back to the eighth or ninth centuries and, despite their age, the discovered pieces still look as glamorous as when they were first produced more than 1,000 years ago. The colors used on the paintings are made from rare minerals, including gold, silver, malachite, cinnabar and lapis lazuli.

The dance show presents the process of grinding the minerals in one creatively designed scene, with the help of colored smoke and carefully choreographed visuals.

Large-size Thangka paintings, meanwhile, are brought to life through the large-scale coordinated dancers who recreated the images on stage. The spiritual romance between the protagonists serves as a thread connecting the art, artist, history and the present day.


In the first life, the beautiful woman ignores all her suitors and is only attracted to the artist and his Thangka. Devoted to the art, the artist refuses to marry the woman, who stays by his side and assists him in his devotion for the rest of her life.

Reincarnated, the artist and the woman have both inherited their love for the art, but this time, a fire has set them apart between death and life. Trying to save all the paintings from a fire in the temple, he is severely injured and dies in peace as he leaves the paintings and the protection of them in the hand he trusts.

They are reincarnated again in contemporary times as the artist is now devoted to repairing and protecting ancient Thangka. The woman, now an art teacher visiting his studio with her students, is again attracted by him and his art.

Date: May 24-25, 7:30pm

Tickets: 60-380 yuan

Venue: Shanghai International Dance Center

Address: 1650 Hongqiao Rd