National Theater, Taipei
April 14, 2023
In tiaen tiamen, Episode 1 (the first part of the title translates as ‘I, Us’ in the Paiwan language; 我, 我們), the first part of what is planned as a trilogy, choreographer Bulareyaung Pagarlava (布拉瑞揚・帕格勒法) allowed his two Paiwan collaborators to lead the way. It shows. The music by singer-songwriter ABAO (阿爆, also known as aljenljeng tjaluvie), and especially the projections by young visual artist reretan pavavaljung (磊勒丹．巴瓦瓦隆) dominate almost throughout. The choreography mostly comes a very distant third.
Founded in 2015 in his home town of Taitung, the Bulareyaung Dance Company (布拉瑞揚舞團) aims to allow young dancers of the indigenous Paiwan people of the far south of Taiwan to explore their roots and culture. As part of that, they undertake physical labour in the mountains, sing by the Pacific Ocean, and numerous other activities and field trips designed to help them find their true, unique selves.
Episode 1 of tiaen tiamen focuses on youth, with middle-age and old-age to follow. And it does have a youthful feel. Occasionally projected on two gauzes that give them a three-dimensional look, but more commonly seen above the dancers, reretan’s projections are full of the colour found in the tribal traditions.
Intended or not, it’s easy to read them as something deeper, however. As they overpower the live action, as they make the dancers seem small, could they also be a reflection of modern times? Could they be a nod to how tribal custom and tradition is drowning in the modern digital world?
Whatever, bright and vibrant, the patterns, symbols, wavy lines that seep sideways like flowing ink and spots that appear to float and drift in space bring their own electricity to the stage. An artwork in themselves, they would comfortably stand alone as a video installation in a gallery. But they do overpower and diminish the live action.
ABAO’s soundscape also tends towards young, modern feel, especially in those house music sections dominated by a full-volume, heavy beat. It could be a party. It does quickly start to sound terribly familiar, especially to anyone cognisant with the music of a certain Israeli composer for dance, however. One of the highlights of the piece actually comes when ABAO’s music gets a welcome breather and the cast sing.
The choreography includes a superb opening solo by guest dancer Hsu Ting-wei (許庭瑋), whose sharply accurate poppin’-like movement soon makes him the object of attract or desire for the five dancers of the company. That style later reappears in a well-danced unison section.
Once past the opening, tiaen tiamen, Episode 1 tends towards being very much a dance of lines. There is a lot of walking. Side to side across the stage, around the stage, diagonally, sometimes just following one another, sometimes holding onto each other. The best of them comes when the cast line up across the front of the stage, each dancing their own short solo. But, while there are hints of individuality, they do look a little too similar.
For much of the work, the dancers, who refreshingly come in different shapes and sizes, appear with faces covered by fabric. A reflection of how people lose their individual and tribal identity in the big city, perhaps. Unfortunately, it also means they lose the former as performers.
Elsewhere, costume designer Keith Lin (林秉豪) initially puts everyone in very realistically skin-coloured body stockings, although if we are supposed to think they are nude, the move fails, because they very obviously are not. Later tight-fitting one-pieces include references to traditional symbols.
While some aspects of the piece, presumably specifically Paiwan-related, were lost on me, tiaen tiamen Episode 1 does include elements of frustration. Towards the end, a distorted voice in the soundtrack appears to get increasingly angry. Is this the railing of youth, of tribal youth?
It’s bright, it’s loud, it’s often a bit brash. Bula, as he is affectionately known, is a favourite. It was no surprise when, at the end, the audience cheered enthusiastically. But it’s not a work without issues. It’s very much the fireworks of the technology that stick in the memory rather than the choreography.