Celebrating past triumphs

Taiwan's dance world will be getting together for a weekend of revivals, presenting a great opportunity for dance lovers to enjoy great works of the last 20 years

By Diane Baker  /  STAFF REPORTER

Fri, Apr 27, 2007 - Page 13

The folks at the National Theater and Concert Hall (NTCH) certainly know how to throw a birthday party. They are partying all year long in celebration of the 20th anniversary of the theater and concert hall, with lots of VIPS (international companies and performers) and relatives (local groups) invited.

The key to any good birthday celebration are reminders of one's achievements and so the NTCH has put together what they have labeled "The Vital Capsule of ART" series, with offerings some of the best performances of Chinese opera, vocal music, theater, dance, traditional Chinese music and Western chamber music in the last 20 years as well as new works.

For the seven capsules, the NTCH invited both world-renowned masters and more than 30 local groups to present nearly 100 performances. The idea was to give people the chance to see an old favorite or something they might have missed, as well as the opportunity to explore something new. Take in even one of the seven different capsules and you are sure to feel better the next day.

This weekend is the first of two dance capsules; Taiwan's dance community being so rich and diverse that one program alone could barely do it justice. The "Collection of the Best Dances in the Past Two Decades" features eight companies, two different programs and two shows each day. The focus of program A tomorrow is "folk dance," while Sunday's program B will highlight modern dance.

The rundown for program A is: Eastern Current (再見東風) by Dance Forum Taipei (舞蹈空間舞團); The Seance (招魂) by the Neo-Classic Dance Company (新古典舞團); Ji Jing (極境) and Chiang Ku (搶孤) by the Lan Yang Dancers (蘭陽舞蹈團) and Homage to the Gods (慶神醮) by the Taipei Folk Dance Theater (台北民族舞團).

On Sunday the program consists of George Balanchine's Serenade performed by students of the College of Dance, Taipei National University of the Arts; the Spring Shoots section of the Legend Lin Dance Theater's (無垢舞蹈劇場) incredible Hymne aux Fleurs qui Passent (花神祭˙春芽); City of the Sky (天空之城) by more College of Dance students and the late Wu Kuo-chi's (伍國柱) Tantalus, performed by Cloud Gate 2.

While time and space do not allow for a thorough examination of each piece or group, there is room for a brief who's who.

The Dance Forum Taipei was founded by Ping Heng (平珩) as a collective that would provide the opportunity for different choreographers and dancers to present modern dance works. Eastern Current was choreographed by Yang Ming-lung (楊銘隆), who was inspired by Chinese puppetry. Yang collaborated with National Guoguang Opera Company (國光劇團) director Li Xiao-ping (李小平) on the piece and used both dancers and opera performers.

The Neo-Classic Dance Company was founded by Lin Feng-shueh (劉鳳學), one of Taiwan's modern dance pioneers and mentor for scores of Taiwanese dancers. The Seance is based on a poem of the same name by the Tang dynasty poet Qu Yuan (屈原).

The Ilan County-based Lan Yang Dancers, founded by the Italian Catholic priest Gian Carlo Michelini, are one of the country's best traditional dance ensembles. Michelini wanted to preserve both Taiwanese folk dances and the culture of Ilan residents. The Chiang Gu dance is based on a competition that is part of the annual ghost festival.

The Taipei Folk Dance Theater was founded in 1988 by Tsai Li-hua (蔡麗華) as the first ethnic dance company in the country. Its mission was to preserve and promote Taiwan's dance heritage, both Aboriginal and Chinese.

Program B on Sunday begins with the first ballet famed Russian-born choreographer George Balanchine created after he moved to the US and opened the School of American Ballet in New York City. Serenade, set to Peter Tchaikovsky's work of the same name premiered in 1934, evolved from classes Balanchine gave his young dancers on how to dance on stage, as opposed to in a classroom. He incorporated both accidents — a woman's fall — and improvisations from some of the students into the piece. So it is fitting that the work is being performed by Taiwan's next generation of dancers, dance students at the nation's premier arts school, the Taipei National University of the Arts.

The Legend Lin Dance Theater was founded by choreographer Lin Lee-chen (林麗珍), who has created a repertoire of visually stunning and emotionally engaging works based upon or inspired by Taiwanese folk tradition. Spring Shoots section is a beautiful duet.

City of the Sky was choreographed in 1996 by Cloud Gate 2's late artistic director Lo Man-fei (羅曼菲), who was chairwoman of the dance department and director of the Graduate School of Dance at the Taipei National University of the Arts.

Fans of Cloud Gate 2 are also very familiar with Wu Kuo-chi's work. The Taiwan-born, Germany-based choreographer who died in January last year managed to cram a lot into his all-too brief life. In just a few short years he created a unique vocabulary of movements and tics that makes his works instantly identifiable. He created Tantalus in 2000, while he was still a student at the Folkwang Hochschule in Essen, Germany. The 10-minute work for eight dancers is a fast-paced look at modern life, with a nod to Greek mythology.

Choosing which program to see, if you can see only one, will be difficult. Given the relatively inexpensive price of the tickets, many dance lovers are likely to try to see both. However, if you're wallet won't even open for one ticket, you can still see some great dance at the National Theater this weekend, or right next to it.

As an added attraction, the National Theater is sponsoring a free performance by the Formosa Aboriginal Song and Dance Troupe (原舞者) in the main plaza of the Chiang Kai-shek Memorial on Sunday at 4:30pm. Two hundred dancers will perform around a bonfire in the plaza between the two theaters, come rain or shine.

The Formosa Aboriginal Song & Dance Troupe — now in its 15th year — is made up of young Aborigines who share an interest in preserving their people's songs, dances and rituals. The troupe has given hundreds of performances throughout the country and around the world.