Oldies but goodies

By Diane Baker  /  CONTRIBUTING REPORTER

Fri, Dec 26, 2008 - Page 14

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The National Theater is closing out the dance year with a look back at Taiwan’s dance history, featuring the work of three living “national treasures” who have danced, taught and inspired for decades and are still going strong.

Lee Tseg-o (李彩娥) may be 82, but she shows no sign of slowing down. Henry Yu (游好彥), who was the first Asian man to join Martha Graham’s dance troupe (in the 1970s), has been called the “father of modern dance” in Taiwan. Yao Ming-li (姚明麗) is known in Taiwan as the “eternal ballerina.”

Both Lee and Yao trained in Japan, while Yu was a student of famed Taiwanese modern dance teacher Tsai Jui-yueh (蔡瑞月) before leaving Taiwan for Europe and the US to expand his training.

All three choreographed and ran their own companies and several of their works have been revived — or in Yao’s case recreated — for this retrospective program, including Lee’s Spring Breeze and A Suite of Taiwanese Folk Songs. Yao gained fame for choreographing a classic ballet based on the Han Dynasty poem, Peacock Flies to the Southeast, the only piece by her on the program. The four works by Yu on the program include Fisherman and The Hunter and Deer.

At a press conference at the National Theater last month, the trio expressed great surprise that the theater had contacted them and asked them to join the program. They were also delighted that so many people, including former students and dancers, were eager to help them restage their work, much of which was created before videotaping rehearsals or performances became common in Taiwan.

For Lee, dance has always been a family affair, and this weekend’s program will be no different.

Eleven of her family members have been or are dancers, including grandson, Hong Kang-jie (洪康捷), who was last seen dancing in August with his ballerina finance Wu Ching-yin in her production of Le Corsaire.

Hong will partner his grandmother in two of her pieces this weekend, and he said she was an inspiration to him — especially her energy, although perhaps not quite as agile as she was when she was his age.

“She is still an amazing dancer,” he said.

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