Travel is about engaging with people. Songs, dances and cultural performances are windows into the thoughts and dreams of people from different lands. For all the culturally inclined, Kalpana Sunder lists five outstanding cultural shows that are not to be missed when you travel to this part of the globe.

Travel is beyond everything engaging with people from different cultures and traditions. Songs, dances and cultural performances are windows into the thoughts and dreams of people from different lands. For all culturally-inclined , these are five outstanding cultural shows that you must not miss when you travel to different parts of the globe.

The Whirling Dervishes, Istanbul

The Whirling Dervishes show can usually seen in theatres and clubs around Turkey and is actually derived from a mystical ritual known as the Sema,meant to release the soul from earthly ties and enable it to communicate with the divine. I witnessed an esoteric performance at the atmospheric Hodja Pasha Cultural Centre, a 500 year old restored bathhouse or hamaamin the Sirceki area of Istanbul. The Whirling Dervishes belonged to the Mevlevi sect founded by the poet and mystic Jalal al-Din Muhammad Rumi, in the 13th Century. For many years they were banned fearing that their religious roots would lead them to revolt against the secular government until UNESCO declared the Whirling Dervishes as ‘a masterpiece of oral and intangible heritage’. Watching the dancers raising their arms, holding their right palm upward toward heaven and their left palm downward, twirling around fluidly in a trance-like state, never dizzy or knocking against one another, feet never faltering was an ethereal experience.

The Wakagetti dancers, Ayers Rock, Australia

The ‘red heart of Australia’ with the world’s largest monolith called Uluru or Ayers rock, is a place filled with spiritual connotations for the local tribal people called Anangu. To delve deeper into their rich culture, you must watch the stunning Wakagetti dancers who do open air performances in Ayers Rock Resort town. The body- painted dancers, dance to the light of a bonfire, imitating animals like the emu, lizard, kangaroo and the echidna, interspersing the act with the eerie strains of a didgeridoo. This interactive show with chanting, animal sounds and vigorous jumping and shaking movements brings to life the habitat of the indigenous people of the remote Northern Territory. At the end of the performance, the dancers coax the audience to try a few dance moves and kick up the red dust.

Water Puppet show, Vietnam

Imagine puppeteers who stand in knee-deep water holding hand-carved puppets with five shiny layers of lacquer…The water puppet show in Vietnam dates back to the 11 century and had its beginnings in the delta of the Red River where flooded paddy fields became stages. Farmers used to amuse themselves and their families by staging these puppet shows. The shows were also supposed to entertain the spirits so that they would not cause mischief. The show that I saw at the Golden Dragon Theatre in Ho Chi Minh City had an emcee called Chu Teu (Little Teu), a tiny, comical wooden figure of a four year-old wearing a red loin cloth.Dragons spit fire and seem to dance over water, men row boats over stormy waters, phoenix fight, and tall women walk with baskets of fruit piled on their heads. Most of the shows depict rural folk tales about fishing, harvests and festivals. Make sure you sit in the front row and enjoy the water splashing on you.

Impression San Jie Liu, Yangshuo, China

One of the most creative shows that I have seen is the Impression San Jie Liu at Yangshuo, China. For those who have always watched a performance in a closed space with sets, light and sound equipment, this is like a breath of fresh air. This show directed by famous Chinese movie director, Zhang Yimou, was designed by a team of 67 artists and this production took five years and five months in the making. The unique show is staged in the world’s largest open air theatre, where the Lijiang River, dramatic limestone karsts and the star-studded sky are the main props. The performers drawn from minority regions like the Zhuang, Miaos, Yaos, local fishermen and school children numbering to almost six hundred perform in seven parts of this show which mixes ballet, contemporary and folk dance. Girls in ethnic costumes, fishermen with conical hats with colourful spot lights flashing on them – this is a mix of movements that you are not likely to forget.

Flamenco, Madrid, Spain

Flamenco dancing had its roots in Andalusia, in Southern Spain and the gypsy people called the gitanos.Today you can catch a flamenco performance all over Spain in musical clubs and restaurants.Flamenco conveys a gamut of emotions: it can convey happiness or merriment, be flippant and frivolous, or it can be full of anguish and despair. I saw a charged flamenco performance at a small tablao or flamenco club called La Carboneras in Madrid decorated in red and black, where the intimate space was conducive to the stomping, beating, raucous beats and interplay of the dancer and the musicians. There is a lot of fine technique to the dance form: the tips of the shoes have nails hammered into them to create the tapping sounds and many of the flamenco elements are onomatopoeic like the sound of the blacksmith’s anvil.