Wed, Oct 31, 2018 - Page 13 News List

The intersection of politics, rights and dance

Tsai Jui-yueh, long considered a subversive by the government and jailed on Green Island for three years, was a pioneer of modern dance in Taiwan

By Diane Baker  /  Staff reporter

Taiwanese dance pioneer Tsai Jui-yueh’s 1949 dance, Chasing is one of the works on the program of the 13th Tsai Jui-yueh International Dance Festival in Taipei, with the first show on Friday night.

Photo courtesy of Pan Jia-huang

“Taiwan is Taiwan, Call Me Taiwanese” is the theme of the 13th Tsai Jui-Yueh International Dance Festival (第十三屆蔡瑞月國際舞蹈節), which will be held this weekend at Rose Historic Site (玫瑰古蹟), the Japanese-style house in Taipei that was Tsai’s China Dance Club for decades.

This year’s festival aims to celebrate Tsai’s legacy as well as commemorate the 70th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights with a selection of works that includes a new piece about the plight of refugees.

Tsai, who died in exile in Australia in 2005, was a pioneer of modern dance in Taiwan, but her legacy extends far beyond the usual confines of stage and theater; it serves as a reminder that dance, like other arts, can be a potent force for protest and social commentary, as well as cultural exchange.

The Tainan-born Tsai, who went to Japan in 1937 at the age of 16 to pursue her dance studies, returned to Taiwan in 1946 and began teaching and performing, often for the newly arrived troops of the newly arrived Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) government.

She married Indonesian-born Chinese poet, professor and newspaper publisher Lei Shih-yu (雷石榆) in 1947, but in June 1949 he was arrested by the government for spying for the Chinese Communist Party and expelled from Taiwan.

A plan for Tsai, Lei and their son to reunite in Hong Kong was halted by the government, which first told Tsai she could not leave and later arrested and jailed her on Green Island for three years.

After her release, Tsai returned to Taipei, teaching and performing, despite being tightly monitored by security forces. She was not allowed to leave the country until 1983, when she moved to Australia to join her son, Roc Lei Ta-peng (雷大鵬), who was working there as a dancer.

Performance Notes

What: 13th Tsai Jui-Yueh International Dance Festival: Taiwan is Taiwan, Call Me Taiwanese

When: Friday, Saturday and Sunday at 7:45pm, Sunday matinee at 3pm

Where: Tsai Jui-yueh Dance Research Institute/Rose Historic Site (蔡瑞月舞蹈社/玫瑰古蹟), Lane 46, Zongshan N Rd Sec 2 (台北市中山北路二段46巷進場)

Admission: NT$1,000; available at NTCH box offices, online at, at convenience store kiosks or at the door.

She left the China Dance Club in the hands of two former students, her daughter-in-law, Ondine Hsiao (蕭渥廷), who now chairs the Tsai Jui-Yueh Dance Foundation, and her sister, Grace Hsiao (蕭靜文), whose founded her eponymous troupe in 1985 to both to perform her own work and preserve that of Tsai’s.

Even after Tsai’s departure, the studio remained ensnared in politics. The Taipei City Government had planned in 1994 to demolish it, but a campaign was launched to preserve it as a tribute to Tsai and her work. It was finally designated a municipal historic site on Oct. 22, 1999, but just four days later it burned down — while Tsai was on her only second visit back to Taipei since leaving — an arson case that has never been solved.

The rebuilt studio was finished in November 2003, and in 2005 it was renamed the Rose Historic Site in honor of one of Tsai’s most famous works, The Prison and the Rose. Three years later the first Tsai Jui-Yueh International Dance Festival was held.

For the festival performances, the sliding doors at the front of the house are pushed back so the front room and wooden walkway can serve as a stage, with the audience seated in the garden.

The festivals, held the first weekend in November, have always celebrated not only Tsai works, but those of her Japanese teacher, Ishii Baka, and choreographers whom Tsai admired or echoed her passion for socially relevant dance.

By continuing to promote her work, as well as those by other socially minded choreographers, the foundation hopes to promote social reform and democracy in Taiwan.

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