Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Taipei Dance Circle celebrates and toasts 25 unforgettable years of pain and glory

By Nancy T. Lu

If Liou Shaw-lu and Yang Wan-jung take time out to flip through the pages of the Taipei Dance Circle’s album of memories today, they are bound to come upon a quarter of a century full of reminders best summed up in just a few words: “If there is no pain, there is no glory.”

Back in 1984, these two ambitious dancers decided to strike out and start a modern dance company of their own in Taiwan. All they had and still have to this day has been a passion for dance.

The road they have chosen to tread has been paved with discouraging difficulties. Survival has not been easy. Yet they have managed to plod on undaunted by challenges. Finding the money to keep the struggling dance company from folding up has been hanging all along like Damocles’ sword over Liou and his completely supportive wife Yang.

New dance productions, each one a labor of love, have been staged after painstaking preparation year after year. Liou at one point even resigned from his teaching jobs to give his full commitment to dance creation. Choreographies have required not just the lengthy development of dance moves but also the careful search for suitable music, stage design, and costumes.

To come up with a distinctive and perhaps signature style became Liou’s obsession as artistic director of the Taipei Dance Circle. While working in a dance studio one day, the perspiring Liou slipped on the floor. He quickly noticed the beauty of his unobstructed move. He later decided to apply baby oil on his body to further ease physical movement on the dance floor. Even the floor was subsequently slicked with oil to pave the way for an exciting and brilliant dance happening.

And so the dancers of the Taipei Dance Circle applied baby oil on their entire bodies and then took to a special stage floor likewise covered with baby oil. Unconventional dance moves evolved to visually excite audiences at home and abroad. “Olympics” even invited a quick comeback performance in Aachen. The Ludwig Foundation in Germany singled out the touring production for honoring with the 1997 Performing Arts Innovation Award.

Liou’s early works for his dancers drew inspiration from traditional Chinese themes and subjects close to home. “Farewell, My Concubine” and “The Hermits in the Bamboo Forest” could be cited as examples.

A remarkable sensitivity to events and the times gave birth to unforgettable choreographies. “The Hermits in the Bamboo Forest” proved a dance statement about the headline-grabbing protest in Tian An Men Square in Beijing. The dancers ended up wrapped in costumes painted with blood-red characters. “Faults” in the aftermath of the earthquake on September 21, 1999.saw the dancers performing like they were going through the frightening impact of the earth opening up and moving

Liou began focusing on Chinese “qigong” based largely on breathing at one point. He trained dancers to do breathing exercises. The concept of :”breath, body and heart” was behind “Olympics,” “Oil Painting,” “Ode to a Paramecium,” “Black Tide,” “Faults,” “Flow,” “Body Water” and “Pilgrims’ Dream.”

In 2001, Liou explored the natural emission of sounds while listening to body rhythms and engaging in physical moves. His “Sight and Sound” exercises tapped the raw energy in the body.

Liou, who was born in Chutung, Hsinchu County, made special efforts to highlight his Hakka ancestry in his dances. “Pingban or Moderato,” “Meandering Over the Mountain,” and “Hakka Yodeling and Dancing” were heavy in Hakka cultural content. He made sure that the Hakka communities around Taiwan were able to view his modern dance interpretations of Hakka culture.

The Taipei Dance Circle led by Liou has given more than 400 performances in the last 25 years. The company has enthralled critics from The Village Voice, Aachener Nachrichten, and Singapore Straits Times, among others.

Liou tried to share his love for dance at 261 workshops and lectures. He happily interacted often with professionals from other art fields not just in Taiwan but also abroad.

After enduring 25 years of hardships, the sixtyish Liou has made up his mind that the show must still go on. To stay alive, he feels a compulsion to keep dancing. This is despite the physical toll of the years on him. A thyroid condition did not drive him to stop. And most recently, he was seen rehearsing “Silent Dance” without grimace (quite a formidable feat) despite the painful gout attack on his dancing foot. .

“Silent Dance” will have a premiere performance at the National Theater’s Experimental Theater on October 1. More performances are lined up at the Taipei venue until October 4. The production will then move to the Hsinchu Cultural Affairs Bureau’s Hall for Performing Arts on October 9, to the Tainan County Cultural Center’s Concert Hall on October 15 and finally to the Chiayi County Performing Arts Center on November 28.

“Silent Dance” has been described as choreography about dancers doing simple moves and reaching out to the realm of perfection. Taichi and qigong all come into play. When the live music composed by Lee Tzy-sheng and to be provided by a cellist, a pianist and an electronic music provider starts playing, Liou will once more live his “no pain, no glory” experience. Dance enthusiasts, however, will be there to cheer him and his dancers on, making success taste mighty sweet.

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