Mon, Sep 26, 2011 - Page 13 News List

Shining a light on a dark past

The Formosa Aboriginal Song and Dance Troupe is celebrating its 20th anniversary with a new production about an Aboriginal hero who fell victim to the White Terror

By Diane Baker  /  Staff Reporter

The Formosa Aboriginal Song and Dance Troupe will give 10 performances of Dreaming of Azalea Mountain at Huashan 1914 Creative Park in Taipei starting Oct. 1.

Photo Courtesy of the Formosa Aboriginal Song and Dance Troupe

The Formosa Aboriginal Song and Dance Troupe (原舞者) is celebrating its 20th anniversary by revising its most controversial work, Memories of Azalea Mountain (杜鵑山的回憶), which traces the life of Uyongu Yatauyungana, also known as Gao Yi-sen (高一生), a Tsou Aborigine who became a teacher, activist and politician — and some would say Aboriginal martyr. The new show, titled Dreaming of Azalea Mountain (迴夢Lalaksu), will be performed at Huashan 1914 Creative Park, starting Saturday night, as part of the Huashan Living Arts Festival (華山藝術生活節).

In an interview earlier this month, Watan Tusi, the director of the company, and Faidaw Fagod, the artistic director, and choreographer Bulareyaung Pagarlava talked about the show and Gao’s legacy.

The troupe, now based in Hualien, was founded by a group of friends living in Kaohsiung in May 1991 after they had been asked to perform some traditional Aboriginal dances for a government function, Fagod said. They had so much fun working together they wanted to continue.

The company is known for its research efforts to revive and preserve the traditional songs and dances of Taiwan’s Aboriginal tribes. It has adopted almost an anthropological approach, with troupe members, sometimes joined by university researchers, visiting village elders to learn and record how they speak, dance and other traditions of the various villages and tribes, including such non-performance activities as cloth-making, basket weaving and harvest rituals.

So it was somewhat surprising that the troupe should decide to mark such a key anniversary by revising a production that not only was a departure from its usual song and dance routines — by adding dialogue — but one that upset people in the Aboriginal community, not least of all some of Gao’s family members.

Performance Notes

WHAT: Formosa Aboriginal Song and Dance Troupe’s Dreaming of Azalea Mountain (迴夢Lalaksu)

WHEN: Oct. 1 to Oct. 10 at 7:30pm, and Oct. 2, Oct. 9 and Oct. 10 at 2:30pm

WHERE: Huashan 1914 Creative Park (華山1914), East Two Hall (東二館), 1, Bade Rd Sec 1, Taipei City (台北市八德路一段1號)

ADMISSION: Tickets are NT$400, NT$600, NT$800, available at the NTCH box office or online at

Gao, born in 1908, was among the first Aborigines to go to university, graduating from Tainan Normal University, before returning to Alishan to become a teacher and policeman. He eventually became mayor of the Tsou Aboriginal township of Wufong (吳鳳), now known as Alishan Township (阿里山), and a promoter of Aboriginal autonomy. However, he was also a musician who wrote many songs, some based on the traditional mythology of the Tsou and others influenced by popular Japanese music of the day.

After the 228 Incident in 1947, he rallied the Tsou to join Chiayi residents fighting Chinese Nationalist (KMT) troops at the Chiayi airport. The KMT later accused him of sheltering the governor of Tainan County, Yuen Kuo-chin (袁國欽), whom the government had labeled a communist spy. After being jailed for several years, Gao was executed in 1954.

During the White Terror and Martial Law Era, his name was hardly mentioned and his children and grandchildren have said they were bullied or harassed at school and in the village because Gao had been labeled “an enemy of the state.”

In 2007, the Council of Cultural Affairs published a biography of Gao that included his musical works. It became the inspiration for the Formosa Aboriginal Song and Dance Troupe’s first production about him that year. Lalaksu is the Tsou term for azalea mountain. The show told of Gao’s life, his death and the struggles of his family in the aftermath of his execution.

Faidaw said he still finds it hard to believe that the company has made it to the 20-year mark, given its constant struggle to find funding. He is very proud of the fact that the company is one of only two full-time dance troupes in the country, the other being Cloud Gate Dance Theatre (雲門舞集), meaning it’s full-time members don’t have to find other jobs to support themselves.

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