Taiwan Season at the Edinburgh Fringe: Varhung – Heart to Heart by Tjimur Dance Theatre

Dance Base, Edinburgh
August 9, 2018

David Mead

Tjimur Dance Theatre (蒂摩爾古薪舞集), Taiwan’s leading indigenous dance company, have impressed audiences at previous Edinburgh Fringes with their contemporary take and traditional themes, ideas and dance. Fresh from success at the Avignon Off festival, Varhung – Heart to Heart (Varhung – 心事誰人知) is their most impressive contribution yet.

The company hail from Pingdung in southern Taiwan. A word from their own Paiwan language ‘varhung’ translates literally as the heart. There is a deeper meaning, though, an expression of internal feelings and emotions of all shades. It stresses their hidden true affections.

Tjimur are very much a company for which tradition is not only about the past but is as much about today and looking forward. As with all Baru Madilijn’s choreography, contemporary dance, local conditions and culture infuse as one. The result is a work that is clearly deeply felt by the performers but that, even better, also transmits that to those watching.

Varhung starts gently with a gently swaying walking step, contemporary but clearly rooted in the past. From the three dancers (Yang Ching-hao, 楊淨皓; Ljaucu Tapurakac; and Meng Tzu-en, 蒙慈恩), we slowly but increasingly her the words ‘anemaq’ (what?) and makudja (what happened?) whispered as though they are asking the question of themselves. As the dance builds, bursts of explosive action, sometimes with loud use of breath, punctuate calmer moments. It’s as though there is an underlying tension that periodically breaks the surface before subsiding once more.

Bodies seem possessed as they rail against something. There may be just three dancers but the choreography ebbs and flows through the whole space. Very impressive is how one of the three drops out of a phrase to dance individually before reassembling again seamlessly. The unison is always nothing less than perfect. Reflecting that deeper meaning of the title, private joy, anger, sadness and more are all made visible.

Even more remarkable is the physical and emotional levels of the incredibly committed performers. For the full fifty minutes, Varhung is non-stop, the score following the power of the choreography as it becomes increasingly percussive.

The loose-fitting, beige tops and wide legged-trousers, also by Madiljin, emphasise the movement a treat.

It ends on what seems to be a more plaintive note and two traditional songs that were sung by forestry workers in the evenings. Living in blockhouses miles from anywhere and unable to go home for long periods, they would sing about internal pain and despair. The first, ‘What Should I do Without You’ a song about worry that a partner would have found someone else, is especially potent.

Varhung – Heart to Heart by Tjimur Dance Theatre is at Dance Base to August 26. Visit tickets.edfringe.com for details and tickets.