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29 may 2012 002Dharamshala: When Tsering Dorjee (AKA the Lion Man) was a small boy in Tibet, he was a free spirit, uncontained by any limits or boundaries. Anyone who watches his flamboyant one-man shows in Dharamshala, northern India, today would concur that the same still holds true.

Tsering's dance and improvisation performances are full of intense energy, visual creativity and freedom of movement, and that word - 'freedom' - comes up time and again when the Lion Man is around.

Tsering, aged 27, was born in the Kham region of Tibet, near the capital Lhasa. Like many other Tibetans refugees, he journeyed across the Himalayas - in Tsering's case, with his parents and 37 others. He made the difficult and dangerous journey in 1998, travelling mostly at night with, as he poetically puts it, "only the light of the moon and stars" to guide him and his fellow travellers. However, there was nothing poetic or romantic about the trip.

"We were always scared that the Chinese soldiers on horseback were following us," he told me. It was a fear well founded, and remains so. A few years ago, a young Tibetan women was shot dead by members of the People's Liberation Army on her journey to Nepal. Many others have been injured in the same way and no-one, apart from perhaps the Chinese authorities, knows for sure how many have died or been injured.

Fear, hunger and the cold are ever-present dangers on the journey, and Tsering felt them all - so perhaps it is not surprising that the notion of freedom is so close to the Lion Man's heart.

When asked how he acquired his stage name, Tsering says, "It was given to me by some Western visitors in Dharamshala a few ago." You can see why if you catch a particularly energetic and manic performance on YouTube - search for "Lion Man Dharamsala". Tsering describes his work as liberating - not only for himself but hopefully for the audience too. "I go into a trance," he says, "like a meditation."

The dances, which incorporate Tibetan and contemporary styles, carry serious messages about Tsering's personal quest for freedom across the Himalayas, and wider political and social issues. "I want Tibet to be free, and I want people to be free," he says. Where there are boundaries or limitations, he continues, he feels the need to push them - that way we keep our minds open. Whether those boundaries be political, social or personal, somehow the Lion Man mixes them all up - refusing to present them as discrete or artificially delineated.

Tsering tells me he would love to do a world tour, if he could get the funding. He performed in Goa a few years ago and was inspired by new ideas and new people. So what does the future hold? Delhi? London? New York? Anything should be possible for such a liberated soul...

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