Dancers at the Taipei National University of the Arts

TNUA dancers in class

I met with some of the dancers in Professor Xiao-Xiong Zhang’s ‘Rite of Spring – Part 1 : The Adoration of Earth’ which was being rehearsed for the daCi/WDA International Festival of Dance Academies program at The Metropolitan Hall in downtown Taipei. I sat in a close group of about 5 dancers huddled together all trying to understand my questions and relate their answers back to me, while I sat listening intently trying to understand their answers. Unfortunately my Chinese is terrible, so I have mostly interpreted the comments that I didn’t completely understand.

I was curious to learn from the dancers more about their relationship to the work they were rehearsing by Xiao-Xiong, who I danced for when he was a guest choreographer at the Centre for the Performing Arts in Adelaide many years ago. Although I found working with Xiao-Xiong and immensely enjoyable experience, I felt as if in the work I performed there was something missing in the translation from Eastern to Western cultures. Part of my curiosity was born out of the fact that these dancers had nothing imposed upon them, and that their sense of identity seemed meshed in their dance background, individual personalities and all aspects of their Taiwanese life.

Can you explain a little about the Xiao-Xiong’s creative process?
What was the starting point and what research did you do that helped you understand your role as a dancer in a work that was created by Nijinsky almost 100 years ago?

Ding Wei Guo  ( male )
It was a story about aboriginal people in Taiwan and they’re going to force a girl who wants to kill herself… Or maybe she is forced to fit – maybe she doesn’t die. She started to dance until she died. He created this about the cultural revolution and appreciate a place like where there are flowers. That’s all I know.

Shen Yi-Wen ( ex-Cloud Gate dancer )
This is a reconstruction of a work premiered in 2008. Some watched the video to learn the movements. By the movement you can understand what the choreographer want to say and Xiao-Xiong also tells  us when he creates this piece. He talked about the period in Cambodia, the cultural revolution.  It’s an idea you can know for the idea if the choreographers and also you can find a way a role should be with the life experience.

Wang Yuan-Li ( ex-Cloud Gate 2 dancer )
In 2008 when the work was created there is a different dancer so Xiao-Xiong changed a lot in the second half for me. She pretends she is the mother and her movement quality is about the mother’s emotion. She is the older one in this piece so what they went through is kind of event unreal life so may times so they know the struggle but they have to deal with this again and again, but they can’t change the environment. For some reason someone has to be sacrificed.

( Huang Li-Chieh – leading male dancer )
Some might consider you as Nijinsky reincarnated for this interpretation of ‘The Rite of Spring’. How did you get into the mind of the character and what else were you able to bring to one of the world’s most famous choreographies?

First of all I had to see the video at the beginning. Then just like the ‘mother’ Xiao-Xiong told me about the story and the history. I’m a kind of elder or a chief of the group and Xiao-Xiong told me I have to imagine I am more than 20 or 30 years older than I am. I need to be more mature with wisdom. For everyone. You have to sacrifice one person so that there can be more life in this world. I am with the old woman… It happens over and over again and we can’t change this.

I want to work together with her but we fight together and because I am much stronger than her she becomes a kind of a mother feeling. She cares about the chosen one and she pitied her but she has no choice… she has to do this, she helps me.

( Wang Yuan-Li – rehearsal director )
You are a graduate of the TNUA, have danced with Cloud Gate 2 and have worked with Xiao-Xiong for a number of years. How do you see your relationship developing with the Professor and what do you think are some of the key ingredients the dancers take on in understanding his creative process when developing his work?

( Jokingly…You need to be a young man with big muscles ). Xiao-Xiong  is attracted to working with dancers with long limbs and a strong physique for his leading roles. Actually he likes to give the students the opportunity to be in his work to grow and learn something for his process. Because this work has three casts, Xiao-Xiong hopes that everybody can learn and grow. He is very generous with his energy because he has many dancers to work with. Xiao-Xiong is a very patient teacher and I like being his rehearsal assistant and he will talk about all the dancers very often, so when they are not going so well, he says… “We can wait and talk about it later”. Xiao-Xiong will talk about the key words and doesn’t explain so much so you can go away and think about it.

Can you tell me a bit about your background,  what motivates you to study dance, who is your biggest influence and where you see yourself going after you graduate from TNUA?

Ding Wei Guo ( male )
I will go to Australia first and then when I save money I will go to England on a scholarship to continue the next level of my training and maybe get a job with a dance company. Then maybe I’ll try becoming an independent dancer. When I’m 26 or 27 I’ll come back to Taipei and maybe start my own company. I don’t know what will happen in the future.

Lin Yu-Chieh ( male )
I went to TNUA High school but I have been studying dance for 3 years. After TNUA I  will go to University, the Taipei Physical Education College (TPEC) to study more dance and then I’ll come back to TNUA to do my honors degree. I will write about my final year performance. When I was a young child about 3 or 4 years old, I would hear music and my body would dance. My mother said I had the potential to dance. My parents come to see me perform. Xiao-Xiong is one of my biggest influences, Yen Fung-Shi from the TPEC University is my biggest influence. She is now in China and she hasn’t seen me for a long time so I will have improved a lot when she sees me perform next. When I graduate I would like to be a part-time dancer or dance teacher so I will have to study more (but I hate it).

Chen Jia-Hong ( male )
When I was in junior high school I learnt about science. There was a dance competition and the school asked me to join. I saw the dancers and they are different and I wanted to do this. I saw how the dancers are charming and wanted me to join in. I just wanted to be on stage with the others because they are happy to be dancing. My first dance teacher is my biggest influence. Ming Ju Su who is a ballet dancer in Taiwan and he created a company called Lor d’ Ballet Company. He helped me so much to start thinking about being a dancer. I asked him to give me ballet classes. I want to join Cloud Gate when I leave TNUA.

Huang Li-Chieh ( male )
When I was about 4 years old I started to dance in the Lan Yang Dance Company – the Chinese folk dance company based in Taipei. I am the first male dancer in the company… and the last. It’s not a professional company, it’s just a student company. So first of all I just started Chinese traditional dance then I started senior high school at TNUA, and now I’m in year 4 so I’ve been here for 7 years. I love performing very much, I don’t know why. I enjoy the stage and the audience. I think the performance has an end, then there will be another performance to start working on. I really like working towards the performance, and it helps me to improve more and more. My teacher is called Huei-lu Chen, the director of the Lang Yan Dance Company. She also teaches at TNUA Chinese dancing,  Kung Fu and martial arts. She has taught me for more than 10 years. I want to be a full-time dancer in Europe or maybe Australia for companies like Ultima Vez or Chunky Move. I want to leave Taiwan and work in different countries because in Taiwan it’s completely impossible to be a full-time dancer.

Photo: Philip Channells