The area between the Chiang Kai-shek Memorial and Ketagalan Boulevard (凱達格蘭大道) in Taipei has seen tens of thousands of people on the streets in recent weeks for political protests and rallies. This Saturday afternoon, there will be thousands more thronging the streets, but they will be drawn instead by the feathers, glitter, body paint, Aboriginal children’s drumming teams and “samba grannies” that are the hallmark of the Dream Community’s (夢想社區) annual Dream Parade.
For those who have never heard of it, the Dream Community in Xizhi (汐止), New Taipei City (新北市), is one of the nation’s more unusual residences. Founded more than a decade ago by Gordon Tsai (蔡聰明) and partners, the community, built on 1.6 hectares, is centered around art and pageantry. It not only puts on an annual carnival parade in Taipei, but sends artists and musicians from Taiwan and abroad to towns and villages around the country to encourage grassroots artistic endeavors.
Those interested in buying an apartment have to agree to participate in the annual community parade by organizing a group of at least 10 people, agree to take part in a similar international festival and, when selling the property, can only retain 3 percent of any increase over the original sale price; the rest must be given to the community.
Tsai was inspired by New Orleans’ Mardi Gras, Rio de Janiero’s Carnival, Seattle’s Fremont Solstice and the Burning Man festivals in Nevada, which he has attended several times, as well as other carnivals around the world. Since 2001 he has worked to bring a similar annual madness to button-downed Taipei, complete with samba dancers, bands and beads.
One of Tsai’s main ambitions is to help people learn that anyone can be creative and that art can be part of everyday life.
“Carnivals in other places are very commercial, but in Taiwan, it is open, everyone can participate. I travel around the world to participate in carnivals, so I know ours is very unique. Community teams work for several months … our floats are very different. People with no art training can create art,” he said in an interview on Tuesday.
Each year, Tsai and his team invite a group of foreign artists to live and work in the Dream Community and take part in the parade. This year, a five-person team from France — Sophia Galland, Sacha Berthon, Hugo Brunet, Pierrick David and Praash — have been here for three months. Their main contribution has been a giant “demon fish” float named Boing Boom Tshaak.
“It is not really a float, more like a sculpture,” Tsai said. “Most of the materials are recycled. It’s very amazing.”
In addition to the French, there are two Brazilian teams, four Japanese, one American and one Indonesian, Tsai said. Design and architecture students from several universities have also organized teams to create floats this year, he said.
A key component of the parades is the samba drumming teams of children from Aboriginal communities and villages around the nation.
This year, about 35 teams will be taking part in the National Dream Cup Samba Drum competition, critiqued by several judges posted along the parade route on their drumming, costumes, choreography and enthusiasm. This reporter will be one of those judges for a third year.
While samba drumming is not an Aboriginal tradition, Tsai said communities have embraced it as a way of helping preserve their culture as more young people migrate every year to cities for work.
To encourage more audience participation, the parade is featuring two other competitions this year. There will be 10 young women competing for the title of “most beautiful samba girl” and about five “samba grannies,” as Tsai calls them, who average at 80 years old and will be competing for their own title. The winners will be announced at the stage show that follows the parade.
“Also at the stage show … there will be a lucky draw to win a ticket to the Asakusa Samba carnival in Japan,” Tsai said.
The parade starts at 3pm and is scheduled to finish at 6pm. The route is 1.2km long, beginning at the Chiang Kai-shek Memorial Hall plaza’s main gateway. The marchers will head up Zhongshan South Road (中山南路) to Renai Road (仁愛路), where the parade will turn right and head toward Linsen South Road (林森南路) before making a U-turn and heading back to Ketagalan Boulevard (凱達格蘭大道). The parade ends at a stage area in front of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
There is a post-parade stage show on Ketagalan that is scheduled to run from 6pm to 9pm.
If you want to catch a glimpse of Tsai, he won’t be hard to spot.
“This year, I am a purple fighter,” he said.
So keep your eyes peeled for a middle-aged man in purple body paint and not much else, dancing on a float or on the street and pausing occasionally to breathe fire. Like the Dream Parade itself, Tsai is a unique fixture in Taiwan’s artistic sphere.