Friday, April 23, 2010

Foreign Minister Timothy Yang confers diplomatic medals on Lina Yeh, Rolf-Peter Wille

By Nancy T. Lu

Taiwan’s best-known piano duo Lina Yeh and Rolf-Peter Wille were conferred diplomatic medals by Foreign Minister Timothy Yang at a ceremony which took place at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Taipei on April 23.

The awarding of the Friendship Medals of Diplomacy came particularly after their significant achievement in consolidating the ROC’s friendship with diplomatically allied Vatican. Over the years since 1987, Lina Yeh and Rolf-Peter Wille have traveled to many countries on different continents as ambassadors of goodwill, making their contributions toward strengthening the Republic of China's friendly ties with different countries especially in the absence of diplomatic relations. The two marked their 30-year milestone performing professionally as a piano duo earlier this year.

Friends, colleagues from the academe, mentors as well as diverse individuals whom Lina Yeh described as those who have helped and supported her and her German husband in arriving at their significant accomplishments were present during the awarding ceremony on Friday. Yeh’s parents also attended the event.

The Taipei-based piano duo received an invitation from the Vatican to perform at the 25th founding anniversary celebrations of the Pontifical Council for Health Care Workers earlier this year.

During their brief but memorable encounter with Pope Benedict XVI, the Papal Pontiff – a German national like Wille – revealed that he also plays four hands with his brother and former director of the Regensburger Domspatzen choir, Msgr. Georg Ratzinger. Pope Benedict XVI loves playing on the piano. In fact, when he was elected the new head of the Roman Catholic Church, there was talk about the need to move his piano to the papal apartment at the Vatican. This proved quite a challenge.

Yeh and Wille performed music by Bach, Brahms, Edvard Grieg and Francis Poulenc at the function at the Vatican. Bach is one of Pope Benedict XVI’s favorite composers. He is known to listen to music daily.

All photographs were taken by Nancy T. Lu.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Mime Bizot excited about living dream with “nan guan” dancer 20 years after reading “Peony Pavilion”

By Nancy T. Lu
Imagine exquisite “nan guan (southern pipe)” music playing on the stage. “Nan guan” dancer reprising the classic opera role of an official’s daughter Tu Li-niang appears and not long after, so does a French mime cast as dream lover and scholar Liu Meng-mei. Romance from the Kun opera “The Peony Pavilion” unfolds dramatically without words like a dream

Philippe Bizot, a French mime very excited about collaborating once more with the Taipei Chinese Orchestra although with a big difference, revealed that he first read a French edition of Tang Hsien-tsu’s “The Peony Pavilion” about 20 years ago and became totally fascinated then with the love story.

“Little did I know at that time that I would be living my dream today,” he said while showing a look of contentment. “A full-length production of ‘The Peony Pavilion,’ possibly in two parts or even more, is what I would like to work on next.”

At least a week of close interaction with “nan guan” performer Cheng Hsin-i is paving the way for the awaited actual performance at the Zhong Shan Hall in Taipei at 7:30 p.m. on April 24.

Chung Yiu-kwong, the director of the Taipei Chinese Orchestra (TCO) and the featured conductor, said during a rehearsal of the exquisite “nan guan” music: “This concert program is in keeping with our goal of showing the diversity of the orchestra.”

“Mime as personified by Pierrot with a tear in his eye is all about emotions,” said Bizot, making a comeback after working with performers with challenged hearing during the Taipei Deaflympics. “And the emotions of mime are universal.”

“I have always performed in silence,” pointed out Bizot. “But I now do mime to ‘nan guan’ music. I listen closely. I love it when the notes fade so beautifully into a whisper.”

The “Floating Musical Notes” program will also feature sheng player Kuo Hsiu-jung, erhu artist Yang Xue and violinist Tu Ching-yun.

Yang Xue will be the soloist during the performance of He Zhan-ho and Chen Gang’s “Butterfly Lovers Concerto for Erhu and Chinese Orchestra.” Sheng player Kuo Ksiu-jung will perform Qian Zhao-xi’s “Tian Mountain Rhapsody for Sheng and Orchestra.” Tu Ching-yun will play the violin solo part in Ravel’s “Tzigane” (arranged by Qu Chun-quan).

For tickets to “Floating Musical Notes,” call tel. 02-33939888

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Taiwan's top designer Sophie Hong opens boutique at Palais-Royal in heart of Paris

By Nancy T. Lu

Boutique Sophie Hong had its soft opening at 3 Galerie de Montpensier of the Palais-Royal in Paris in early March this year. The Lettre d’information du domaine national du Palais-Royal published by the Centre des Monuments Nationaux announced the arrival of Taiwan’s top fashion designer known for her subtle blend of ancient tradition and modernity in the chic, upscale section of the French capital.

The grand opening will be on May 17. A Taiwanese glove puppet theater performance will be a highlight of this special occasion. Hong, whose clothes are worn by celebrities like Isabelle Huppert, Gong Li and Zhang Ziyi, will dress up for a change the glove puppets created for the program.

Sophie Hong’s collection taps silk manually dyed, using extract from vegetal root. The process ancient in origin dates back to the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644).

All photographs shown here except for the picture of Sophie Hong taken by Nancy T. Lu are courtesy of Sophie Hong.

Friday, April 16, 2010

“Best job”winner Ben Southall talks about stint as island caretaker in the Great Barrier Reef

By Nancy T. Lu

Ben Southall, the adventurous British winner of the much-publicized “best job in the world,” is visiting Taipei for a few days, arousing in the process great public curiosity about the his six-month stint as caretaker of Hamilton Island in Australia's Great Barrier Reef last year.

Blond and tanned Southall, who outshone everyone else in a search which attracted 34,683 applicants from different continents, was said to have clinched the closely contested “best job” due to his excellent skill in communicating. Taiwan’s very own Clare Wang was a finalist for the job, too.

“My experiences underwater – which were all about the islands and the Great Barrier Reef – have stood out in my memory,” the 35-year-old Southall revealed.

“In the last few weeks of my job, I was diving with my film camera at a place near Elliott Island,” Southall said. “Turtles seen in the water normally disappear quickly. But for some reason on this particular day, one turtle about 15 meters from where I was swam all the way towards me. So I wrapped my hand around its shell. It turned and looked back at me. Then it disappeared. My girlfriend was underneath the turtle. So she had seen it from below while I had seen it from above. Between the two of us, looking at each other, we could say only very little to each other underwater. We could only mumble our excitement. It was an amazing experience.”

“This was an exhausting job, too,” remarked Southall about his enviable stint out in Australia. “This, in fact, was like you’ve got money for two weeks of vacation and you had an adventure every single day. You finally ended up needing a holiday after the two-week holiday.”

His last four months have been about his new role as Queensland’s tourism ambassador. In fact, he is in Taipei to fan excitement about travel to Queensland. Southall described his new job as “still about making people around the world jealous about what my work is all about.” He has been making presentations and showing people everywhere the pictures which he has personally taken in order to get them to book for travel to Australia.

Southall spent a few years before “the best job as island caretaker” traveling in a very different way. He knew it all – from five-star accommodation all the way down to camping on a beach. He has pictures as tell-tale proof.

For ten years leading up to “the best job,” Southall explored different places, but mainly parts of Africa. He was often a backpacker. But in the last year, he went around driving a Land Rover with a tent on its roof. The Land Rover was his bedroom, his kitchen and so forth during the expedition. He blazed a 61,000-kilometer trail through 31 African countries over a period of one year and one week.

Backpacking in Australia is much easier than similar activity in Africa due to the existence of lots of hostels, according to Southall. A wide variety of activities are possible.

A pair of flip flops with thongs, a Swiss army knife as well as a small and compact waterproof camera are on Southall’s list of needs for a backpacking trip in Australia. Recording and documenting the travel for eventual input on a personal blog can go a long way to drive away boredom upon return to the humdrum of life working in an office job, he stressed.

Southall intends to go back to the Great Barrier Reef to involve young people from around the world in an environmental study particularly of how global warming is affecting it.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Time to wax poetic after Joyce Kilmer over a breathtakingly beautiful flowering tree in Taipei

By Nancy T. Lu

Flowers have a way of taking my breath away. And coming upon this flowering tree in the heart of Taipei leaves me in awe. Just imagine an entire canopy of blossoms and the ground below paved with dropped flowers, too. Wow!

Said to stay in full bloom for only one month in a year, the special tree is indeed a sight to behold. That it is the only flowering tree of its kind in Taiwan makes it unique.

Capparaceae is its scientific name. People in Taiwan also call it by different names, including mountain olive tree. With origin traced to Australia, the tree grows usually to a height of at least 10 meters.

In the month of April, when this particular tree in Taipei blooms, flowers appear greenish yellow in color. The petals then turn slightly purple in shade. In July, small spotted fruits develop, according to explanations on a marker at the site.

The wood from the tree is carved into the shape of a fish and this is used as bait for catching squid or cuttlefish. This explains why residents point to the flowers, calling them wooden fish flowers in Chinese.

The tree standing on a piece of Taipower property at 11, Lane 283, Roosevelt Road, Sec. 3, in Taipei has been there for at least two decades. Now is the time to rush over to catch a fleeting seasonal floral feast for the eyes. And maybe you, too, will have a good reason to start quoting poet Joyce Kilmer: “I think that I shall never see…a poem as lovely as a tree…!”

Monday, April 12, 2010

Wi Ding Ho’s “Pinoy Sunday” opens First Taipei Golden Horse Fantastic Film Festival

By Nancy T. Lu

Hilarious is the adjective which best describes Wi Ding Ho’s first full-length movie “Pinoy Sunday.” The real life tale told by many overseas Filipino workers is generally peppered with sadness and pain. But the reel life drama is full of comic situations.

Manuel (Epy Quizon) and Dado (Bayani Agbayani) are Pinoy (Filipino) characters with an easy-go-lucky side. Despite the hardship and loneliness of life as migrant workers in Taiwan, they manage to grin while sharing experiences of their hearts as lonely hunters over Taiwan beer (not San Miguel beer, which is harder to find).The verbal exchanges of the two factory workers always trying to beat the Sunday curfew at the dorm – one fair-skinned and the other with dark brown complexion – leave spectators rolling in the aisle with laughter.

The comedy truly begins when they find an abandoned red sofa on the street one Sunday. Both decide to carry it all the way to their dorm. Imagine the two even attempting to get it on a public bus.

“Don’t think for a moment that the task of carrying the sofa across town as seen in the movie is easy,” remarked director Wi Ding Ho (shown on the extreme right in top photograph). “Believe me, it is not.”

The guys wear very colorful shirts and that is intentional. All the bright colors seen in the film match the cheerful and upbeat nature of the Filipino workers in Taiwan.

A typical tale about Pinoy workers can easily be melodramatic. But the director himself has observed to his own surprise right from the beginning the Filipinos hanging around a stretch on Zhongshan North Road to be a happy bunch. They seem quite capable of dealing positively with the difficulties of being away from loved ones and home while trying to earn money. Camaraderie among Filipinos abroad is strong.

Dialogues in the movie are in colloquial Tagalog or Pilipino. The involvement of a Philippine line producer (producer Mark Meilly and Spark Films) has helped in telling the story of Philippine migrant workers with credibility. There are Chinese subtitles.

Malaysian director Ho said he did not find his inability to speak Tagalog (or even the Ilongo dialect in one scene) a problem during the three-and-a half weeks of filming in Taiwan last year. While shooting the movie, actor Quizon picked up the Taiwanese song, "I'm Not Drunk," from the Taiwanese crew.

Ho asked Jack Pollack, his classmate at the New York University more than 10 years ago, to be the cinematographer of the movie which took five years in all to realize. Pollack played with vivid colors in the upbeat movie but shifted very briefly to black and white a few times in the film.

Wi Ding Ho’s “Pinoy Sunday” opened the First Taipei Golden Horse Fantastic Film Festival last April 9. Epy Quizon(shown on the extreme left in top photo), son of king of Philippine comedy Dolphy, flew back to Taipei to attend the world premiere of the movie.

Quizon confessed that he sat in awe over the presence of internationally-known Taiwanese director Hou Hsiao-hsien at the movie premiere. He watched closely Hou’s reaction during the showing of the film.

When Quizon’s turn to speak to the audience finally came, he pulled out his mobile phone and asked everyone to greet his mom in the Philippines.

Nubia Lin, a top professional model making her movie debut in this motion picture, towered over Quizon as they stood with director Ho for picture-taking earlier.

Meryll Soriano and Alessadra De Rossi are the other Filipino stars in the cast. All the extras, including the priest and the Catholic parishioners of Our Lady of Fatima Church in Danshui, attended the Taipei movie premiere and film festival opening.

Taiwan’s Government Information Office and NHK Japan helped produce the movie through funding.

Ho’s earlier successes have included short films “Respire” and “Summer Afternoon.” “Respire” was winner of the Kodak Discovery award and TV5 (very) Young critics’ Award at Cannes in 2005 while “Summer Afternoon” was selected for Director’s Fortnight at the Cannes Film Festival in 2008.

Saturday, April 3, 2010

Artists gathering to honor memory of publisher and supporter of the arts Yu Chi-chung on his 100th birth anniversary

By Nancy T. Lu

Luminaries of Taiwan’s art and culture community are gathering and organizing a special concert to honor the memory of the late China Times founder Yu Chi-chung on April 9, just days before Yu’s birth centennial on April 16. All participation and involvement will be offered gratis et amore.

Yu, who lived to the ripe old age of 93, gave his crucial support to the arts over the years and helped in his lifetime write the history of Taiwan’s cultural heritage.

The program at the National Theater in Taipei on April 9 will open with the performance of Lin Hwai-min’s 10-minute solo dance choreography by a Cloud Gate dancer. The performer must keep rotating without moving from a pivotal point to express mourning and grief for the departed as well as to give vent to a feeling of protest against the heavens for taking him away.

Cloud Gate 2 will likewise dance Huang Yu’s “Floating Domain” to the music of Bach. This will be the premiere of the new choreography. Lin Hwai-min seeks to give full encouragement to rising bright young talent Huang, emulating the example set by the late Yu.

When Taiwan’s best-known and multi-awarded choreographer Lin Hwai-min was just starting out with his Cloud Gate Dance Theatre many years ago, he was personally taken by Yu to his house as well as to his office. Lin, only 26 then, met important personages of the older generation, who were potential supporters of his dance company, this way.

The dance company folded up in 1988 but got revived in 1999. Lin recalled that the dance company which he led at that time had “no money, only courage.” But on the second day after artistic director Lin made his comeback announcement, Yu sent his driver over to deliver an envelope containing a letter and a NT$2 million check.

Meanwhile the Ju Percussion Group will strike up marimba notes during the concert to stir emotional recollections. Pipa or lute master Wong Ching-ping will interpret Hsu Po-yun’s “Pipa Jottings.” The composition blends influences of East and West, reflecting the late Yu’s thinking and philosophy.

The Taipei Symphony Orchestra and Chorus will perform overtures from “Aida” and “La Forza del Destino.” Art songs and operatic highlights by the chorus will be featured. Chen Chiu-sen will return to conduct the Taipei Symphony Orchestra at the concert to be a prelude to another collaboration with the orchestra later.

The rendition of Yu’s favorite songs like “I Live at the Start of the Yangtze River,” “Mending the Broken Fishnet” and “One Day When We Were Young” will fan sentimental reminiscences of how Yu never tired of listening to them or even singing them, according to New Aspect’s Hsu Po-yun.

Hsu remembered that the New Aspect’s announcement of financial difficulties to the tune of NT$50 million in the 1980s led to a personal phone call from Yu. Yu, in fact, sent over his accountant to check the books of the New Aspect. He urged Hsu to reduce his staff of 100 by half in a week’s time to cut down on costs and save New Aspect from permanently stopping operation as promoter of the arts.

“New Aspect cannot fold up,” he told Hsu. “New Aspect is no longer a private entity. It belongs to the Taiwan society.”

The following day, he gave New Aspect a donation of NT$10 million. Because of his influence as a leading light in Taiwan’s media industry, Yu also helped New Aspect solicit a donation of NT$5 million from Formosa Plastics.

Yu also personally tried to stop Hsu from entering politics. He wanted to see him remain an impresario. Hsu at one stage toyed with the idea of becoming a legislator. Yu urged him to just focus on the promotion of the arts.

Yu Fan-ying, Yu’s daughter and head of the Yu Chi-chung Foundation, announced that proceeds from the April 9 concert would go to charity causes helped by the foundation. She recalled that intellectuals, who were friends of her father, came and went at home when she was growing up. She knew her father to be a man who had a sense of direction and who felt a sense of purpose in life. She felt very touched to have so many people going to great lengths to express their deep gratitude to her father for his generosity and influence seven years after his death at the age of 93.

Photo shows (from left) Cloud Gate Dance Theatre’s Lin Hwai-min, conductor Chen Chiu-sen, Yu Fan-ying of Yu Chi-chung Foundation, and New Aspect’s Hsu Po-yun.