Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Dancers’ bodies speak out and articulate Hakka culture in Taipei Dance Circle’s “Body Sound”

By Nancy T. Lu
Creativity finds expression with bullish energy as choreographer and dancer Liou Shaw-lu leads the dancers of the Taipei Dance Circle in figuratively spinning yarn for a new dance tapestry called “Body Sound.”

For years, Liou has been exploring the three-in-one principle of “breath, body and heart” in dance creation. He has been taken particularly by choreography evolving side by side with the sounds flowing naturally through the body’s network of arteries and veins.

“Body Sound” is a polished and refined outcome of years of working on such technique. Physical motions release body sounds throughout the dance. The chakras, which are “force centers” or whorls of energy in the human body, get moved around. As the dance progresses from segment to segment, chakras can be traced to the crown, brow, throat, heart, and solar plexus, among other points in the dancer, in “Body Sound.”

Minimalism and expressionism have guided the development of this modern dance by the Taipei Dance Circle. Liou puts aside for now the use of baby oil, his highly successful and rather unique dance trademark for many years.

The props and costumes in at least two parts of “Body Sound” invoke rustic images. Liou, in effect, tells the story of his life in “Body Sound.” From his peasant family background comes the traditional farmer’s raincoat of straw. He wears it in a solo dance.

Jhudong in Hsinchu County is Liou’s hometown and the area as suggested by the “Jhu” word (meaning bamboo) in the name is where bamboo groves thrive. He gets his dancers to dress up like traditional scarecrows or straw men in the fields, pounding their way around with bamboo poles.

Raw and primitive moves in “Body Sound” strongly call to mind Taiwan’s aboriginal people. The choreographer summons his dancers to break into an aboriginal high in “Body Sound.”

Anthropological researchers have put forward a theory that the island of Formosa was at the center of the Austronesian culture thousands of years ago. Majority of the Taiwanese population up until the Dutch colonial period belonged to the Pingpu tribe, explained Liou. But their descendants today are often in denial of such origin.

Hakka culture was closely tied to that of the Pingpu tribe because generations of Hakka men married women from the Pingpu tribe, according to Liou.

The modern dance choreography constantly highlights Liou’s fascination with his Hakka roots. Two dancers at one stage struggle to snatch a bamboo pole from each other. The unyielding Hakka spirit is symbolically brought out this way.

The stylized moves and the rhythmic paces of the performers show Liou’s love of traditional Hakka song-and-dance culture. Even the dancers’ rhythmic number counting in one segment is in Hakka dialect. Very seldom is taped music used in this choreographed dance. The natural lusty shouts and calls coming from the male and female dancers generally replace taped music during the performance.

The dancers with well-rounded dance training work in groups of six, four, three or only two. Their constantly changing formations and moves even occasionally call to mind classical ballet. Four dancers even seem to duplicate the pas de quatre from “Swan Lake.”

Emotions in “Body Sound” go the range: excited, happy, euphoric, quiet, angry and tense. Variety spices up the performance. Always, a tale of grace and harmony becomes the ultimate objective.

Liou, 62, is making his refreshing and heartwarming comeback on the dance stage after a temporary setback due to brain surgery earlier this year. He returns to even playfully incorporate a balancing ball from the therapy clinic into a solo dance act.

Liou and his six performers are gearing to participate in Taipei’s upcoming flower celebration. The body and the mind of each dancer are coming together to enable dance poetry to bud and blossom.

“Body Sound,” the Taipei Dance Circle’s newest dance production, will be staged at the Taipei County Art & Culture Center’s Hall for Performing Arts at 62 Zhuang Jing Road in Banciao City on October 16. The group will also bring “Body Sound” to the Keelung Municipal Cultural Center on October 30 and the Shu Qi Lin Culture Hall in Jhudong, Hsinchu County, on November 20. All performances will start at 7:30 p.m. Call tel. (02)2893-0061 for ticket information.

All photographs posted here were taken by Lee Ming-hsun.

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