Taiwan Season at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe: Tjimur Dance Theatre

Summerhall Online
August 7, 2021

Taiwan is back at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe as usual this year, although, again, it’s all taking place virtually, this time on the Summerhall website. Under its ‘A Glimpse of Taiwan’ banner, its features four filmed dance-theatre productions (three of them specially reworked for film) by Tai Gu Tales Dance Theater (太古踏舞團), Les Petites Choses Production (小事製作), Incandescence Dance (告白熾造), and Tjimur Dance Theater (蒂摩爾古薪舞集); and four webinars.

Back in November 2019, after a very enjoyable evening at Taipei’s Experimental Theater, I reckoned Ai~Sa sa (哎~撒撒) by choreographer Baru Madiljin (巴魯·瑪迪霖) for Tjimur Dance Theater was one of the best pieces I’d seen in the city that year. But I’ll confess to being concerned whether it would work online.

Yes, it does. And better than that, thanks to some excellent video editing by Maurice Lai (黎宇文) that mixes film of the stage production with street and studio locations, it works very well indeed.

‘Ai, sa sa’ is one of those near impossible-to-translate accurately phrases that most languages have. It’s a sort of interjection, something you might say as you laugh at your own attitude, or perhaps a gasp of surprise, or maybe a way of telling yourself to ‘get over it’.

Ljaucu Tapurakac, Chiang Sheng-hsiang,
Meng Tzu-en and Yang Ching-hao in Ai~sa sa
Photo Chen Chang-chih

Tjimur Dance Theater is dedicated to the culture of the Paiwan people but it’s also very much of today. As such, Ai~Sa sa is a largely light-hearted and quirky look at contemporary life, although it does have its deeper, more thoughtful moments.

That occasional flitting between places helps make clearer the dance’s references to local life and customs, although its theme of life and relationships in all their varying moods and moments from warm to poignant and bittersweet, have a pretty universal reach.

The always inventive choreography is superbly performed. The dancers are vividly dressed. The mustard-coloured dress of the sole woman in the cast Meng Tzu-en (蒙慈恩) is quite conservative when set against Chiang Sheng-hsiang’s (江聖祥) lurid lime-green shirt and yellow trousers, Yang Ching-Hao’s (楊淨皓) shiny purple top, and the fabulously over-the-top long polka-dot skirt of Ljaucu Tapurakac (舞祖·達卜拉旮茲). And don’t forget those big sungalsses!

Yang Ching-Hao and Ljaucu Tapurakac in Ai-Sa Sa
Still from film

The energetic opening buzzes with colour choreographically too. Often gesture driven, some parts have quite a tanztheater feel, with Meng generally at the centre of things. A scene with Yang set outside a garage using two armchairs is particularly effective. There are many other highlights. I certainly wish I could have seen more of a duet between Yang and Tapurakac that is full of mutual support and intertwining bodies.

As it continues, Madiljin peels away the layers as he reveals that what people really want is love. The problem is that while it brings people together, it can also bring tears of pain. It’s riddled with metaphors. An onion suggests tears; ribs are chopped, the bones left broken; and there’s the sweet and sour of red and green apples, at one point pictured half-eaten and in embrace.

The music, mostly from a CD of French songs that Madiljin once found abandoned on a Paris street fits like a glove. A slow version of Edith Piaf’s soulful gem ‘La Vie en rose’ seems especially apt in a more thoughtful moment.

But colour and life soon return as it ends in upbeat mode. It would be fabulous to think we might have the company back in the UK when circumstances allow and, who knows, perhaps the full version of Ai~Sa sa. Fingers crossed.

Ai~Sa sa by Tjimur Dance Theatre is available on demand via www.summerhall.co.uk until August 29, 2021.

For details of other Taiwan Season 2021 productions and the online symposium, visit www.twseason-edfringe.com.