Last year's theme for the Taipei arts festival – Oriental Avant-Garde – was so popular with the public that the organizers decided to hold it over for its eighth incarnation. Continuing with last year's tradition, organizers have arranged a multitude of performances, seminars, workshops and off-festival events that merge disparate elements of tradition and modern into what they hope to be a satisfying whole.
The Taipei Arts Festival kicked off its month-long event at Taiwan University Sports Hall (臺大體育館) last week with a stunning performance by New York-based favorites LaMaMa Great Jones Reparatory company, led by award-winning director Ellen Stewart, who performed a revised version of the Greek tragedy Dionysus.
Distilling the energy of the original play and combining it with innovative elements allowed the audience to experience the clash between the traditional text and avant-garde creation in modern theater. With cast members hailing from all over the globe, Dionysus serves as a symbol of the multiplicity of traditions that the festival is attempting to draw upon.
Today will see South Korea's Theater Company Nottle's opening of The Return, a performance based on the German playwright Bertolt Brecht's epic Legend of the Dead Soldier. This lyrical interpretation of Brecht's poem raises fundamental questions about life and war and focuses on how to live happily in an age of endless conflict. Building upon the avant-garde, Nottle infuses its performance with many different theatrical languages including voice, contemporary dance, mime and percussion.
Hailing from Japan, Cicala Mvta -- the name derives from the inscription on the epitaph of a legendary street singer in Japan -- will be performing from their 2004 album Ghost Circus, a unique retro-futuristic combination of big band, world music and Japanese grass roots music. Cicala Mvta's music is a kind of street music that was popular in Japan before the advent of radio and television. Originally played at funerals or the opening of local shops, it features chindon -- a kind of Japanese drum -- saxophones, clarinets and tubas.
For those interested in more traditional fare, there's Wang Shin-shin (王心心) version of nanguan music. Having performed at nearly one hundred international arts and music events, this veteran musicologist will team up with the celebrated master of the guqin, You Li-yu (游麗玉), to perform Burial of Flowers which depicts the frailty and sensitivity of the heroine from the classic Chinese novel The Dream of the Red Cahmber. While many nanguan troupes have integrated elements of theater and dance into their performances and thereby making it mainstream, Wang has consciously retained the essence of the traditional art form. Some may find a return to tradition after years of innovation a little strange, but for Wang, the perpetual innovation of tradition has led full circle to the traditional itself being innovative.
For something a little less esoteric, the National Taiwan College of Performing Arts Acrobatics Company will be tumbling around Zhongshan Hall with flags and dancing with balls and rings performing En vol dans les etoiles. Trained for at least eight years before they are allowed in front of the audience, these acrobats will perform unbelievable feats that combine traditional and modern techniques.