July 19,2017--Thirteen years ago, Penpa Drolkar was too busy baking bricks to harbor dreams of being lead dancer in a Tibetan opera troupe.
Today, Penpa Drolkar is among a group of performers to stage a spectacular show featuring ethnic singing and dancing at the renowned Tibetan Opera Art Center in Lhasa, capital of southwest China's Tibet Autonomous Region.
Penpa Drolkar works for the Yuanda Migrant Workers' Troupe, which consists of 49 farmers and herdsmen from areas around Lhasa. None of them has ever received professional training, and many of Penpa Drolkar's peers used to bake bricks in factories.
"Many people can't remember our troupe's name, 'Yuanda,' so they simply call us the 'brick-bakers' troupe because we used to fire bricks," said Penpa Drolkar. "Yuanda" means "ambitious" in Chinese.
The troupe was formed in 2005. At first, it was a loose collection of a few migrant workers who were passionate about performing in their spare time. Performing helped them relax and brought joy and laughter to their factory co-workers.
"The troupe staged a few shows for the military and performed for free at construction sites for the Lhasa-Xigaze Railway and the Nyingchi-Lhasa Railway builders, which were quite popular," said troupe leader Losang Jinba.
Their performances typically feature singing, dancing, skits and cross-talk, a comedy style. As the performers were migrant workers themselves, the audience felt close to and connected with them. When they started to become popular, the troupe began to perform paid shows in villages surrounding Lhasa.
"In the early days, we received coins and small notes for payment," said Liu Hua, deputy head of the troupe. "We realized that the money must be from poor residents in poverty-stricken villages, so we just returned the money."
Tibet has about 2.3 million farmers and herdsmen, accounting for 74.4 percent of its entire population. Many of them still live in poverty.
"Many villagers were just grateful," Liu said. "Now, whenever big events like Shoton Festival come, they simply request our shows."