The Lan Yang Dancers (蘭陽舞蹈團) take their name from the Lan Yang Plain (蘭陽平原) in Ilan County. They began life 40 years ago when Italian Catholic missionary Gian Carlo Michelini established the Ilan-based Lan Yang Youth Catholic Center (蘭陽青年會). Since then, the group has developed into one of Taiwan's foremost exponents of traditional dance and highly successful ambassadors on the international arts stage.
Widely touted as Taiwan's best traditional dance ensemble, the group will be putting on a revival show entitled The Best of 40 Years of Lan Yang (蘭陽四十-精華再現), which will tour Taipei, Ilan, Taichung and Chiayi starting tomorrow. As the title suggests, this will be a chance to see some of the best pieces of the troupe's repertoire; it will also provide a chance to look back over the troupe's history and the development of traditional dance in Taiwan over the last four decades.
Father Michelini, who trained in the arts in northern Italy, has been keen on preserving the richness of Taiwanese folk dance and creating original works that incorporate elements of tradition, as well as reflecting the lives of Ilan residents. He possesses a sense of mission to promote Taiwanese folk dance and his inspirational power certainly has helped drive the Lan Yang Dancers to pursue the highest standard of excellence and originality. From small beginnings in 1966, the Lan Yang Dancers are now divided into two groups, one based in Lotung (羅東), Ilan County, and the other in Taipei. The groups tour extensively, and have performed around the world.
Only recently, the Lan Yang Dancers' Lotung group set off on an 18-day tour of Europe, where they are performing before audiences of thousands. On Aug. 9, the Lan Yang Dancers were received by Pope Benedict XVI in the Vatican. In addition, the troupe, composed of young dancers aged from nine to 21, has given more than 700 performances in more than 30 countries and has greatly contributed to Taiwan's cultural diplomacy. All this activity has made the Lan Yang Dancers distinguished cultural ambassadors for Taiwan.
Michelini himself has been praised by media all over the world for his work in heritage conservation and last year he was awarded the title of “cultural ambassador” by the Council for Cultural Affairs.
“Culture is the spirit and power of a nation and Taiwan needs to make its culture known worldwide,” Michelini said in a telephone interview on Monday.
Michelini said that many items in the Lan Yang Dancers' repertoire are intended to introduce the strength and beauty of Taiwan's folk culture through the language of dance to international audiences.
In addition to his achievements with the Lan Yang Dancers, Michelini has also been instrumental in promoting the annual Ilan International Children's Folklore and Folkgame Festival (宜蘭國際童玩藝術節). The festival, which has run for the last two months, will end this Sunday.
Why did Michelini devote so much time and effort to Taiwan's dance culture when working in the Lan Yang Plain, an area which, when he arrived in the 1960s, was both poor and isolated from the main currents of Taiwan's economic and cultural life?
“I felt there was a lack of appreciation of the breadth and depth of the cultural heritage in Ilan, and I wanted the local residents to love and appreciate their native soil and improve the local situation,” he said.