Fri, Nov 02, 2007 - Page 15 News List

Dance imitates life in remembering Tsai Jui-yueh

By Diane Baker

The life of Tsai Jui-yueh, a pioneer of modern dance in Taiwan, will be celebrated this weekend.


Next weekend, an eclectic gathering of Taiwanese dancers will perform works by Taiwanese, Japanese and American choreographers in honor of dance legend Tsai Jui-yueh (蔡瑞月) outside the rebuilt Japanese-style studio that was her base in Taipei for decades.

The 12 works on the program are a reflection of Tsai's saga. Tsai, who died two years ago in Australia aged 84, is known as the founder of modern dance in Taiwan, but her life mirrored the history of this land.

Tainan-born Tsai defied her family with her passion for dance growing up, but her parents agreed to let her leave for Japan in 1937, aged 16, to study at a Tokyo academy run by renowned dancers Ishii Baka and his daughter, Ishii Midori.

Three of the pieces on the program were choreographed by Ishii and four are by Ishii Midori, now 95, who will be in Taipei for the performances. Her daughter, Orita Katsuko, who is 75, will perform a solo piece.

Tsai did not return to Taiwan until after World War II ended. Like many Taiwanese of the time, she spoke only Japanese and Hoklo (also known as Taiwanese). In 1947 she married poet and National Taiwan University literature professor Lei Shih-yu (雷石榆), who had helped her as a Mandarin translator. But Lei was arrested in 1949 and expelled to Guangdong Province, leaving Tsai and their year-old son behind. Tsai was detained a few months later and served three years as a political prisoner on Green Island.

She reopened her dance school in 1953 and in 1964 she established the China Dance Club Studio, which at its peak had eight branches around Taiwan.

While Tsai gained international attention for her work, the government kept her under close watch and barred her from traveling abroad. In 1983, however, she was able to immigrate to Australia, where her son worked for the Australian Dance Theatre. They left behind daughter-in-law Ondine Hsiao (蕭渥廷) to run the school.

Performance notes

WHAT: 2007 Tsai Jui-yueh Dance Festival II

WHEN: Friday at 8pm, Saturday and Sunday, Nov. 10 and Nov. 11 at 3:30pm and 8pm

WHERE: Tsai Jui-yueh Dance Research Institute/Rose Historic Site (蔡瑞月舞蹈社), 4F, 40-1, Zongshan N Rd Sec 2 (台北市中山北路二段40-1號4樓)

TICKETS: NT$450 and NT$600, available through

On the Net:

The struggle of Tsai, and countless others, during the White Terror and Martial Law eras will be commemorated by American dance master Eleo Pomare's 2004 work, Tables.

Tsai's family connections will be marked by pieces by Ondine Hsiao and a new piece by her US-based younger sister, Grace Hsiao, set to music composed by Grace's husband, David Maurice.

More than 20 dancers from several companies will take part in the festival. Seating for the performances will be outside and the organizers said they are prepared for inclement weather.

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