fThe past few weeks, I had the chance to attend two performances related to Taiwan. The more recent one was called 關於島嶼 FORMOSA by the internationally-renowned Cloud Gate Dance Theatre. It was a free outdoor performance (thank you Cathay Bank!).
The dancing was sublime as was the background music, clearly sung by an aboriginal singer (I see now his name is Sangpuy and that he has toured over 30 countries). Unfortunately, the performance as a whole dragged too much for our liking (I went with two friends).We were also straining ourselves to watch it from all the way in the back, which probably didn’t help. At any rate, we gave up maybe 15 minutes into the performance.
The other performance I went to was called 美力台灣, funnily also translated to “Formosa”. I found this one much more interesting even as someone who doesn’t frequent concerts and such cultural events. (Sorry, not cultured.)
The performance was a feast for the eyes and ears. While beautiful footage of Taiwan’s natural landscapes and traditional artisans at work played on the screen, world-class musicians played live (foreground?) music.
The orchestra 灣聲樂團 One Song Orchestra specializes in playing music from Taiwan. Here’s the program from that day:
And the musicians are themselves “Made in Taiwan”. For instance, Steven Chang, the friend who kindly introduced me to this, had studied in the US, graduated from Yale’s Graduate School of Music, and is now back in Taiwan. In between performances around the country, he teaches violin and English lessons in his hometown of Taitung and hopes to teach the kids to think beyond the conventional path to success.
He explained to me that the orchestra has been working on a series featuring accomplished individuals in Taiwan 名人系列 . They’ve performed with 施振榮 Stan Shih, the founder of Acer for instance. The entrepreneur narrated his story as the orchestra performed music that impacted him during each chapter of his life.
This month the guest was award-winning director 曲全立 who has spent over a decade filming scenes of Taiwan in 3D. As the SCMP explains,
After a life-threatening tumour left him partially deaf and blind in one eye in 2002, Charlie Chu moved away from making television series and music videos, instead seeking to focus on life’s precious details. His new 3D movie Formosa 3D, out later this month, is a stunning montage of Taiwan’s nature and varied landscapes, as well as portraying traditional trades at risk of dying out.
Then, in between pieces, the conductor and the director of the film made conversation about the music, the film, and their experiences in the arts. One thing that didn’t surprise me was when the director mentioned that he had a lot of support from Taiwanese communities in the US and Canada to screen his movie.
Mountains were also discussed. As you can see from the program, there were two pieces dedicated to mountains — one for the highest peaks and one to Alishan. The conductor mentioned that he is still impressed that Taiwan has so many peaks over 3,000 meters. Before moving to Taiwan, this measure of elevation meant nothing to me, but I remember my uncle also telling me this. Seems to be a “fun fact” about Taiwan that Taiwanese people are impressed by. Within the first two minutes of the Cloud Gate dance performance, the narrator also stated that Taiwan has the tallest peak in Northeast Asia. OK this is starting to sound like a trope…
At any rate, the coolest part of the dialogues was hearing about how the director brings his art to children in 偏鄉 the remote countryside. (For the record, the orchestra also does this– the conductor believes that if people aren’t coming into the concert halls, you should bring the music to them. I think this attitude explains the accessible feel of this concert–I think anyone could go and enjoy it.)
But back to the director– he and his crew drive a 3D movie truck to schools around Taiwan, giving underserved children a chance to learn about and experience the country beyond their town. The journey isn’t always smooth though; this being the remote countryside, there are areas where schools get shut down or merged, so a couple times, the crew showed up to a shuttered school.
If anyone’s ever been with kids at a 3D movie, you’ll know how much more fun it is for them than for us adults. I remember when I went to a 3D planetarium with the elementary school I worked at in France. We “traveled” through the rings of Jupiter, which consists of rocks and ice suspended in place. As this was in 3D, they actually appeared to hit you and all the kids went aïe-aïe-aïe (“ow-ow-ow” in French). And when it “snowed” all the kids reached for the snow.
So it was a treat to hear about kids’ reactions to the 3D movies. From the children on Orchid Island 蘭嶼 (a beautiful outlying island) who saw Taiwan for the first time, to the boy from an Amis tribe who was inspired and decided he wanted to record his tribes’ traditional songs on film, to the child who promised he’d tell his dad to stop littering. (Besides scenes of the natural beauty, there are also scenes of industrial waste and pollution.)
Clearly, the screenings are eye-opening for the children and the director treasures the opportunity to share this 3D film with them. Now they also ask the kids to prepare some sort of performance when they go for screenings, so the sharing goes both ways.
They need funds to keep visiting schools though (around 800 have requested screenings), so you can support their mission here. I uncharacteristically decided to make a donation; my thought process went, “Is this the most effective way to donate?! Well, it is good to support arts education in underserved areas, which tend to have less access to the arts. But… I’m not sure what long-term effect this will have… oh well, there’s cool swag, i.e. the director’s augmented reality book.” I will never be an effective altruist *sigh*.
Anyways, thanks again to Steven for introducing me to this meaningful concert series! I hope to check out more in this series and maybe even bring some friends along (though everyone is so busy these days!).