Monday, June 28, 2010

National Symphony Orchestra embarks on telling story of gifted female artist Pan Yu-liang

By Nancy T. Lu

The story of the legendary female Chinese painter Pan Yu-liang will come to life in the National Symphony Orchestra’s big opera production “La Peintre, Yu-Lin” at the National Theater from July 8 to 11.

As told previously in a Gong Li-starring movie and later in a TV drama, Pan who was born with the Zhang surname in 1895 was sold to a brothel when she was only 13. After Pan Zan-hua, a customs official, made her his concubine, she adopted his family name.

Pan Yu-liang started taking lessons from Hong Ye, her neighbor and teacher at the Shanghai Art Institute. Liu Hai-su, a friend of Pan Zan-hua, saw talent in Pan and encouraged her to enroll at his school as the first female art student.

Pan Yu-liang’s fondness for drawing female nudes did not sit well with the conservative Shanghai society in those days.

Pan eventually went to Paris for her formal art training. She returned nine years later to teach at Liu’s school in Shanghai. Her past as a prostitute, however, haunted her. She eventually returned to the French capital and lived a lonely and impoverished life until 1977. Her plan to go back to China never materialized.

Pan produced many paintings in her life, including many nudes influenced in style by Matisse. She also did many self-portraits. Several of her works combining western and ink painting styles went on to win prizes at salons and exhibitions.

Juliette Deschamps, the young French stage director invited to work with the opera cast, revealed that she made an effort to view Pan’s paintings in French museums before coming to Taipei.

When Joyce Chiu, manager of NSO, first sent her an email to invite her to conduct the opera, Deschamps thought somebody was playing a joke on her. She later felt very delighted to have this opportunity to come to work in Asia.

Of the original Chinese-language opera, she remarked: “I have discovered and truly come to appreciate the beautiful poetic ring of the Chinese language.”

There will be Chinese subtitles on the two sides of the stage throughout the presentation of this opera.

Chien Nan-chang, one of Taiwan’s best-known composers, wrote the music for “La Peintre, Yu-lin” after receiving the script of the award-winning playwright Wang An-chi last year. This is the Germany-educated Chien’s third opportunity to write a commissioned opera.

Yip Wing-Sie, director of the Hongkong Sinfonietta and principal guest conductor of the Guangzhou Symphony Orchestra, will conduct the National Symphony Orchestra.

Chien heaped praises on Wang’s poetic lyrics. He previously wrote music to go with the poems written by poets like Xi Murong. So did Chu Tai-li, the Italy-based soprano cast in the role of Pan Yu-liang. She has had the most songs to memorize. Mewas Lin will be the alternate singer of the part of Pan in some of the performances.

Vocalizing the role of her husband is Beijing-born Chinese bass Tian Hao-jiang. Tian has been singing at the Metropolitan Opera in New York for 19 years. This is his second Taiwan visit. He performed in Zhang Yi-mou’s production of Puccini’s “Turandot” in Taichung not too long ago. Alternating as Pan Zan-hua is Wu Bai Yu-hsi.

At a sneak preview of the opera, the main cast appeared wearing clothes designed by Sophie Hong. Hong’s fashion style has consistently demonstrated Chinese influences with a Parisian flair, making her a good choice in the search for the designer of the opera’s costumes.

In charge of the set design (shown above) is Nelson Wilmotte. He has decided to play with 15 movable panels to create different and changing spaces at will as called for in telling the story of Pan Yu-liang. Stage lighting will also make a lot of difference as the story moves from Shanghai to Paris and back. Creative lighting design will also be crucial in the almost three-hour opera.

Nudity, a big and controversial issue in conservative Shanghai during the time of Pan Yu-liang, will be handled with subtlety and creativity in the production, according to Deschamps. Designer Hong also revealed that unfurled red cloth will suggest a model’s nudity in the opera. But original nude paintings of Pan will be projected on the stage.

Photo shows: (from left) composer Chien Nan-chang, soprano Chu Tai-li, stage director Juliette Deschamps, conductor Yip Wing-Sie, fashion designer Sophie Hong and bass Tian Hao-jiang.

Sunday, June 27, 2010

Computer-aided art show by 2 digital art teachers becomes garden of visual delights

By Nancy T. Lu

Digital art in the hands of artists Lin Yao-tang and Jean Cha-lin evolves into a garden of visual delights. Lin creates his own flower show ahead of Taipei’s International Flora Exposition to open later this year while Jean releases flashes of butterflies fluttering their gossamer wings to make complete the very colorful Mother Nature-inspired picture at the Daxia Gallery of the Chinese Culture University’s Department of Education Promotion in Taipei.

Both art teachers from Ming Chuan University display expertise in the methods for digitally synthesizing and manipulating visual content in computer-aided design.

Computer graphics got started by William Fetter in 1960 or half a century ago and in the 1990s three decades later, the technological advances had opened up fantastic possibilities in digital design. Access to the Illustrator, Photoshop and Painter softwares in the market today, however, does not guarantee success in producing digital art. Human talent remains crucial in the input for image manipulation on a computer.

Lin, who was born and raised in Puli, began preparing for the ongoing exhibition a year ago. He decided to do his flower series of digital art after the unexpected sight of Taiwan’s wild but beautiful flowers fanned nostalgic memories.

Jean for his part reveled in art creation for this exhibition. He just kept “painting” a razzmatazz of bold and solid colors on his computer screen. Bright and strong colors emerging in surprising combinations went on to sum up his cheerful personality.

According to Jean, he experienced unstoppable urge to make art evolve in ways bringing personal satisfaction. Each first attempt, however, was never his final one. At the end of the day, he felt truly appreciative of how far computer science in this age of advanced technology. had taken him in his creative endeavor.

Jean, too, felt a certain nostalgia as he went about his creative digital exercise. As he moved forward in developing shapes, patterns and colors with the help of softwares in computer graphics, he did not stop engaging in wistful yearning for past results. In fact, he has printed saved files to share with the public at the ongoing exhibition of digital works.

During a trip to the countryside, Lin had caught sight of big clusters of orange lantana flowers off the beaten track. He suddenly remembered a weird character who used to roam the streets of his childhood memory, calling out “Hanako! Hanako!” The eccentric fellow reportedly lost his mind after learning that his beloved Japanese girlfriend had committed suicide after being misled into believing that he had died. Their love for each other had met with strong family opposition at the outset. His family did everything to tear them apart. And so thoughts of Hanako, whose name means “flower” in Japanese, have lingered on in Lin’s memory.

An imagined love letter from the heartbroken Hanako inspired a series of works resembling traditional stationeries. These have been nicely framed for the art show.

As a child, Lin had heard of a wild flower with a smell said to drive people crazy. But the remembrance of the wild ginger flower had lingered with more appeal, according to Lin. Blossoms of this kind grew wildly on the banks of a running brook near his ancestral family home in Puli.

When in full bloom, the local magnolia plant cultivated in the courtyard of his Puli home invited picking by the women returning from doing their laundry in the brook nearby for instant tucking in their hair, according to Lin.

Meanwhile the hibiscus plants at home required monthly trimming, Lin recalled. And so he drew them, too, for eventual inclusion in his digital art designs. Flowers blooming on the loofah vines likewise attracted his attention for they were very beautiful, he said.

Lin used handmade Puli paper to print his digital art. The two biggest masterpieces required at least eight sheets each to produce. The special paper absorbed the ink colors to create a soft result as seen in the picture shown here.

The “Exhibition of Digital Works by Two Artists” will run until July 8. The Daxia Gallery of the Chinese Culture University’s Department of Education Promotion is located at 231 Jianguo South Road, Sec. 2, in Taipei.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Taipei International Choral Festival from July 25 to August 1 to feature five foreign groups

The Taipei International Choral Festival will unfold from July 25 to August 1 this year, announced organizer Taipei Philharmonic Foundation. The Taipei Philharmonic Foundation has invited Yoon Hak Won Chorale from Korea (July 31), the University of Louisville Cardinal Singers from the United States (July 30), the Bratislava Boys’ Choir from Slovakia (July 27), the Gustaf Sjokvist Chamber Choir from Sweden (July 26) and the Rajaton from Finland (July 28) to this year’s festival.

The Taipei performances will take place at the National Concert Hall.

Fred Sjoberg will be the featured Swedish conductor of the Taipei Philharmonic Chorus and the Taipei Philharmonic Youth Orchestra during the presentation of Haydn’s “Nelson Mass” to open the festival on July 25.

The closing program on August 1 will highlight the Taipei Philharmonic Chorus and the Taipei Philharmonic Youth Orchestra under the baton of Hungarian conductor Gabor Hollerung in a performance of Mendelssohn’s “Die erste Walpurgisnacht Op. 60.”

For ticket information, call tel. (02)2773-3691.

The picture above shows the Taipei Philharmonic Chamber Choir performing at the Philippine Independence Day celebration in Taipei.

Sunday, June 20, 2010

2010 Shanghai World Expo and Taipei Flora Exposition inspire miniaturist Chen Forng-shean

By Nancy T. Lu

Taiwan’s famous miniaturist Chen Forng-shean is keeping up his record in creating specks of surprises with big impact.

World headlines continue to grab his attention, inspiring him to come up with new conversation pieces. The buzz about the Shanghai World Expo has not gone unnoticed. Shown here is Chen’s mini masterpiece on the “Century’s World Expo Dreams.”

The Xindian-based Chen has literally painted the China Pavilion and the Taiwan Pavilion on a single grain of rice. The grain measures 0.5 centimeter long and 0.3 centimeter wide. He has even written a total of 16 Chinese characters on the rice, which is smaller than the eye of a sewing needle.

As Taipei is bracing for the Taipei International Flora Exposition in November, Chen has also gone horticultural in his creative hobby. He has produced the world’s smallest orchid flowers.

Chen took one month to finish making the orchids out of resin. The floral results measure 0.25 centimeter in length and 0.15 centimeter in width. One cattleya stem has a white flower with touch of red and the other has a yellow bloom with a dash of green.

Both pictures shown above were provided by Taiwan's amazing miniaturist Chen Forng-shean.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

"Pasion Criolla" from Dominican Republic puts everyone in the mood for exciting merengue

By Nancy T. Lu

From the Dominican Republic, the land of merengue in the Caribbean, came Ballet Folklorico Nacional Dominicano, sweeping spectators into a lively and fast-paced world of music and dance.

The exotic land which would normally require travelers from Taiwan at least 20 flight hours to reach (not counting the time spent while in transit) was there for everyone to experience.

The country in the Caribbean first reached by explorer Christopher Columbus in 1492 went through 300 years of Spanish colonization (including evangelization) with French and Haitian interludes. This historical background somehow came to light in the entertaining program presented at the National Taiwan Art Education Center on Nanhai Road in Taipei on June 17. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs also arranged to have the group shine on stages at the National Center for Traditional Arts in Yilan on June 16, at the National Sun Yat-sen University in Kaohsiung on June 18 and at the Taichung Fulfillment Amphitheater on June 19.

Spanish and African influences lent themselves to the exciting and truly colorful cultural performance in "Pasion Criolla". A trio called pri pri made music with a small drum, an accordion and guira (gourd scraped with a stick). Percussion instruments later included palos, atabales and congos. Passion kept building to a new high.

The graceful dancers dressed in folk costumes (even in the patriotic flag colors of red, white and blue in one number) introduced very sensual merengue moves. The men were there to respond with grace, too.

Footwork sometimes seemed to be a takeoff from the hot Spanish flamenco. Hips swiveled and shoulders shook in the limelight. Skirts billowed and swirled to create quite a spectacle. The carnival spirit was in the air. Revelers were invited to take off their masks in Carnaval “Saca Tu Careta.”

Ileana Reynoso rendered Spanish songs in a powerful voice, moving listeners with classic Latin-style expression of love and romance.

One of the dance numbers paid tribute to the late dance company founder Fradique Lizardo. A piece of modern dance choreography performed to familiar Taiwanese song “Ali Mountain High” conveyed the Dominican Republic’s wish for long-lasting friendship with Taiwan.

The dancers and musicians representing a multi-racial population (90 percent with West African ancestry of varying degrees) proved themselves to be extremely successful ambassadors of goodwill.

Josefina Minino de Molina, whose dance career spans 50 years, beamed with pride when she as artistic director appeared with her dance company from the Dominican Republic, an ally of Taiwan, on the stage for the final curtain call.

All the pictures shown here were taken by Nancy T. Lu.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Follow trail of Catholic missionaries in Taiwan and come upon interesting church architecture

By Nancy T. Lu

Roman Catholic churches are overwhelmingly outnumbered by elaborate Buddhist or Taoist temples in Taiwan. The trail of the Catholic missionaries, however, shows a legacy of churches, and these lend themselves to a study of the enriching imported and local or even ethnic influences on Taiwan’s architecture. Some houses of worship are admired for their historical style in design and others grab attention because of the bold and experimental approach in creating cultural monuments.

Spanish Dominican friars known for their pioneering spirit in spreading Christianity arrived in Taiwan with the Spanish explorers in 1626, settling down to plant the seeds of Christianity initially in the north, building churches particularly in Tamsui and Keelung. But the Dutch colonizers in southern Taiwan headed north in 1642, forcing the Catholic missionaries to abandon their work and leave. Thus, Christianization in Taiwan was interrupted for about 200 years.

In 1858, the western powers overthrew the Qing Dynasty. China was forced to sign the Treaty of Tianjin despite the unequal provisions. The foreign missionaries’ freedom to engage in evangelical work in Taiwan returned with the treaty.

In 1859, the Dominicans sent Fernando Sainz, O.P. and P. Angel Bofurull, O.P. to Taiwan. The missionaries belonging to the Order of the Preachers set out from Manila in the Philippines, traveling through Xiamen and landing finally in Kaohsiung to begin rebuilding churches in southern Taiwan after a long absence. But only Sainz stayed to face the difficult challenges of the evangelical mission. Health reason forced Bofurull to return shortly to Xiamen.

Of the many Roman Catholic churches in Taiwan, the Wanchin Basilica in Pingtung County deserves special mention because of its history which goes back to 1859. Indeed the fortress-like structure is the oldest Catholic church in Taiwan today. Pope John Paul II elevated the basilica to pontifical status in 1984. Whenever possible, Catholics who trail the Protestants in headcount on the island turn up as devout pilgrims at this site of great significance in Taiwan’s evangelization.

Initially this house of worship used by the local converts to Catholicism was just a simple house of prayer with a thatched roof. In 1869, the parish priest enlisted the support of the parishioners to rebuild the church. Construction was completed in 1870. The church was expanded to a depth of 116 feet. The walls were 25 feet high and 3 feet thick. The granite tablet with ” 天主教 (tian jhu jiao)” or Chinese characters meaning Catholicism on it is regarded today as an important Qing Dynasty cultural and historical relic.

The exterior of this church shows architecture with both western and Taiwanese influences. The three-part façade features a bell gable flanked by parapets on top. The solemn interior has a nave and two aisles. The Blessed Virgin Mary’s palanquin in the altar area of the church was carved by an artisan from Fujian province. Stained glass windows can be seen here.

The reopening of Taiwan to foreign missionaries as a result of the treaty signing led to the purchase of a piece of land near the Love River in Kaohsiung. In December 1859, Father Sainz paid 62 pieces of silver for the land on which a temporary house of worship with thatched roof was to be built. In May 1860, the church acquired the name of Holy Mother Church. In 1862, a church of bricks replaced it. This church became the Holy Rosary Cathedral in Kaohsiung. The image of the Virgin Mary came from Spain.

Trends of the times have dictated church architecture in Taiwan over the years. The Japanese colonial period from 1895 to 1945 saw the importation via Japan of western architecture that was mainly historical in style. Builders borrowed elements from western architecture in their construction projects.

Despite the architectural restrictions imposed by the Roman Catholic Church, building concepts continued developing and evolving. Trends in the building of churches included copying the Romanesque style and simplifying the Gothic architecture as seen in the present-day Holy Rosary Cathedral dating back to 1931.

The construction of this landmark Gothic church in the Kaohsiung diocese by the Dominicans began with soil refill in a low-lying area in 1929. Work on the beautiful church with a steeple was completed in 1931.

Renovation was undertaken in 1995. Wood braces inside, which were purely decorative and not functional, were given steel replacements. In general, the original church design remained unchanged though.

Actually the Dominican friars built the original Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception on Minsheng West Road in the old section of Taipei in the Gothic architectural style years earlier in 1911. Clemente Fernandez, O.P. had acquired the land for the church in 1905.

The Dominicans’ seminary was constructed next to the church. Also adjacent was Blessed Imelda’s School.

The beautiful church along with the seminary got bombed and destroyed by the attacking American forces on May 31, 1945. The community shortly transformed a hall at Blessed Imelda’s School into a place for prayers.

A temporary chapel to serve the community was built next to the ruins. A new and modern church which replaced it was inaugurated on May 31, 1961. Chen Xi-zhao, a Catholic architect, designed the new and modern cathedral. Its architectural design was a complete departure from the traditional look of the Roman Catholic church.

Actually getting a building permit for the new church in old Taipei was very difficult due to tension across the Taiwan Strait after 1949. The entire process was long and discouraging. But prayers and patience finally brought positive result. The diocese contributed one-third of the required sum for the church construction. The rest came from a couple of generous benefactors as well as the parishioners whose donations were partly in kind such as gold jewelry.

The church with an underground area is 152 feet long, 53.5 feet wide and 71.5 feet high. Its pitched roof of bronze has exposed braces inside. This gathering place of the Catholic community can accommodate 1,200 people.

The altar of the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception is made of Italian marble. The mosaic depiction of Our Lady of Immaculate Conception in front was added much later. There used to be just a cross at the center. The church will be renovated and spruced up this year for the celebration of its 50th anniversary next year.

Many Roman Catholic churches in Taiwan were built after 1952. The Paris Foreign Mission Society and the Bethlehem Mission Society did the fund-raising for the churches in Hualien and Taitung. This meant bringing in western influences in architecture. However, the designs of the churches were not entirely dictated. Parish priests, usually foreign missionaries, and communities of faithful took into consideration the living environment and the needs of the people. Priority was given to the use of local materials in Hualien and Taitung.

Houses of worship, temporary in nature for they were built in a hurry, gradually gave way to more permanent structures depending on access to funding resources. The Paris group relied on help from the United States. The Bethlehem Mission Society turned to Switzerland for financial assistance.

Karl Freuler, who was based in Japan, was invited to help in the design of several churches in Taitung County in the Sixties. These included Our Lady’s Church in Guanshan, Tunghsin Church in Dongxing, St. Joseph Church in Jinlun, and Immaculate Conception Church in Jhiben. The influence of modern architecture was worthy of note. Structural design, choice of construction materials and building technology met the demands of the times.

Churches are monuments of their builders. Thrust into the limelight in recent months has been the Holy Cross Church in Qingliao, Houbi, Tainan County. Gottfried Boehm, the German winner of the prestigious Pritzker Architecture Prize in 1986, was the architect of the landmark Catholic church with simple, defined lines in southern Taiwan. The striking pyramid-like design was believed to be his first church project abroad.

Not too long ago, the original architectural blueprint of the Holy Cross Church in Qingliao, Houbi, Tainan County, got secretly removed without permission from the desk of the parish priest.

Lin Jun-han, an architecture student from Cheng Kung University, climbed a post and broke into the locked church compound about three years ago. He came upon the blueprint of the church in a dust-covered brown envelope on the table.

Lin tried to photograph the original manuscripts dating back to 1986 but his camera jammed. Thus, he took the papers and returned them two months later after copying everything. He attached a note, saying that the drawings should be carefully preserved for these were done by a Pritzker Architecture Prize winner.

Two years later, Hsu Ming-song, a professor of architecture, went to give a lecture at Cheng Kung University. When he mentioned that he was doing research on Boehm’s church, Lin volunteered a disk containing reproductions of the manuscripts. Lin’s handling of the materials was brought to the attention of the authorities. He was finally asked to pay within six months a fine of NT$50,000 to a charity organization for illegally breaking into the church.

Boehm was the third and youngest son of one of the most prominent Catholic church builders in Germany. He was a student of architecture and later, sculpture, too. He worked in partnership with his father from 1952 to 1955, taking over his father’s office after his death.

With Taiwan becoming the 21st separate province of the Roman Catholic Church at one point, emerging houses of worship veered towards the introduction of Chinese architectural elements.

Standing out today due to its Chinese architecture is Our Lady Queen of China Cathedral in Tainan. The pillars inside of wood are painted over in red and writings are done in gold against a black background. Decorative ceiling and window features also contribute to this impressive reminder of a traditional Chinese palace or pavilion.

St. John Church on Nanya West Road in Banciao, Taipei County, can be cited as another example. Taipei Bishop Guo Ruo-shi acquired the piece of land for this particular second church in Banciao, still a town in those days, and Father Mao Zhen-xiang, who oversaw the building of the house of worship, sought the help of Fu Guo-shao, whose expertise was in roof construction and church design.

The church built with financial help from friends in America started out with just a warehouse. The church proper broke ground on March 25, 1961, and was inaugurated on November 25 of the same year.

The cross-shaped interior of the church has a length of 142 feet and a width of 66 feet. With a total area of 246 pings, the church can accommodate over 1,000 faithful during Mass or service. Sixty-eight pews are lined up on the left side and another 68 pews are on the right.

There are three altars inside. The main one at the center has an image of the suffering Christ. The left one honors the Blessed Virgin Mary and the right one is dedicated to St. John.

Up front and to the right side of the church, too, is a huge painting commemorating the Chinese martyrs of the Roman Catholic Church. The first church in Banciao which was built to honor their memory was closed down in 1997 due to the downsizing of the Catholic community in the area. In fact, the two churches simply merged at that time after the other place of worship was asked to partly give way to road expansion. The open-air Way of the Cross has newly-acquired marble pieces of sculpture created by Vietnamese artists to inspire prayers.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Just love different styles of zongzi during Dragon Boat Festival

By Nancy T. Lu
History, myth, legend and custom all come together during the Dragon Boat Festival. As the story goes, Qu Yuan, a fourth century B. C. statesman and poet, in his frustration while serving as minister in the state of Chu for the ruler did not heed his advice, quit his office and threw himself into the Milo River. Villagers, who saw him commit suicide, tried to keep hungry fish from feeding on his body by dropping rice in the water. And to commemorate Qu Yuan, people took to the practice of wrapping rice in bamboo leaves, using thread to tie up the traditionally tetrahedron packets.

The summer solstice festival on the fifth day of the fifth moon for generations used to see homemakers make this must-eat snack at home. The high demand for leaves (green for a more distinct flavor and spotted-brown for ordinary wrapping) used as wrappers even resulted in the import of needed supplies from the other side of the Taiwan Strait long before the thawing of ties.

In recent years, however, easy access to commercial zongzi of many flavors (you can even order zongzi from your neighborhood convenience store in Taipei) has made such kitchen activity (of long duration for the boiling takes time) truly rare. Every year, the five-star hotels in Taiwan compete to satisfy palates with a difference. Ingredients for the filling include often pork fat, dried shrimp, egg yolk, peanuts, dried mushrooms, taro, sweet bean paste, and sesame paste. But the zongzi made primarily of glutinous rice sometimes spirals into truly high-end consumption through the introduction of abalone, for example. A savory zongzi experience sometimes even requires the introduction of X.O. sauce.

Zongzi varieties include basically the meat kind, the vegetable option, the sweet delight and the savory recipe. The Hakka community in Taiwan likes the zongzi with pulverized rice. Another kind known as alkaline zongzi calls for frying the rice with alkaline and no other ingredient. Then the rice is wrapped in green bamboo leaves and boiled until it turns into translucent gelatin. This particular zongzi is relished with sugar or even honey.

In the past when many people made zongzi at home, friendly exchanges of tied tetrahedron bundles were common.. The rice snack abundance made it necessary to keep the surplus in the freezer for gradual consumption in the weeks after the Dragon Boat Festival.

The pictures highlight zongzi from (top to bottom) Landis Taipei, Ambassador Hotel and Grand Formosa Regent of Taipei.

Enjoy the zongzi. But don’t overeat.