Yuan Dancers: return to the source of aboriginal dance in Taiwan

by on Tuesday, 22 June 2010 9163 hits Comments
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The 1980s saw in Taiwan the emergence of the Taiwanese aboriginal movement. In 1991, the “Yuan dancers” company was established in response to the demand for aborigines to be able to perform their own dances.

Before that, aboriginal dance and music were performed in Taiwan by non-aboriginal dancers who were unable to capture the true spirit of the dances. Faidaw Fagod, founder and artistic director of the Yuan dancers company, said “Most dancers apply the feet position they’ve already learnt to the aboriginal dances, with the toes outwards for example, but to aboriginals, it is not the right way to dance!” Also, these so-called aboriginal dance troupes were originally meant for tourists: they were using electronic music, changing the dances styles and improperly mixing music from different tribes. So, among the aborigines, some started to think that they should rediscover the real essence of aboriginal dance “using pure aborigine sound, using aborigine own breathing and dancing with aborigine own rhythm”.

The Yuan dancers asked the elders of the tribes to teach young people how to dance the original aboriginal dances. But it is very difficult when you are far away from your land to make people understand the essence of this art. So the elders changed their way of teaching and they decided to take the students to the tribe to make them experience the aborigines’ reality onsite. The most important aspect of aboriginal dance is to feel the vitality and the energy of its ‘wilderness’. Faidaw Fagod said “Yuan dancers have a different practice of dance to other professional dancers. In fact, there is not a specialized way of teaching. We would like the dancers to learn and understand the dance by repeating the chants and the movements such as ‘feet-tapping’. It is through practice that they will find the right way to dance”. Repetition and practice also allow oneself to familiarize with the dance movements and dance partners. When they hold each others’ hands, the dancers can feel each others’ breath and emotions, and then harmony emerges through the tacit understanding is developed.

Faidaw Fagod also likes to make fun of himself by saying that he is the “ancestor” of the company, as he’s been dancing for 19 years: “Since the foundation of the company until now, I have participated in many shows but I still do not feel tired of it because the people I dance with always have different feelings. When I dance, I like to feel the mood of the person next to me and try to guess what the person besides me is thinking about. Does he feel comfortable? Is he worried about something? I can feel all these things while I am dancing”.

Dancing is mostly a matter of moving and feeling, so the Yuan dancers welcome all aborigines without distinction of age or sex; thus they have members ranging in age from 10 to 48. Faidaw Fagod also says that for the dance company’s survival and development, Yuan dancers are now cooperating with other artists who help them to write scenarios, direct the plays or train them in a more specialized way. Thus for example, the professional training schedule includes a 3 or 4 hour practice of calligraphy to develop patience and concentration.

As the Yuan dancers extended their collaboration with choreographers and stage directors of all origins, including non-aborigines, might they lose their group spirit and cohesion? Faidaw Fagod is very optimistic and says with confidence: “No, we do not fear such a phenomenon because the aboriginal people will keep repeating and reproducing the rites of the aborigines. We wish to offer even more new creation and, regardless of the further changes to come, we will keep the spirit of the aboriginal people alive”.

Adapted to English by Marie Delaplanche

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Photos by Huang YuShun

 

Last modified on Tuesday, 04 March 2014 17:50
Szu-Hui Lin (林思慧)

人籟前主編,不自由文字工作者。

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