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Department of Cultural Affairs

Feature Story

Taipei Culture Award goes to 2 winners preserving diverse arts

By Yali Chen

. Lin Lee-chen, artistic director and choreographer of Legend Lin Dance Theatre, receives the 2015 Taipei Culture Award. (Photo courtesy of Jimmy Lin)The Department of Cultural Affairs (DCA) has announced that the two winners of the 2015 Taipei Culture Award are Lin Lee-chen, artistic director and choreographer of Legend Lin Dance Theatre (LLDT), and Taipei Ling-an Club.

The two winners stood out from a total of 39 individual and group candidates. Each of the winners will be granted NT$500,000 at an awarding ceremony in early December this year.

Now in its 19th year, the award is granted to individuals and groups who make long-term commitments to promoting diverse culture and helping to shape the capital city’s image. Over the past 18 years, recipients of the award have come from many different sectors of the community including people involved in traditional art, dance, literature, history, and environmental care.

The New Taipei City-based LLDT, founded by dancer and choreographer Lin, received the award for its performances balancing the aesthetics of space, pace of life, and the relationship between the environment, people and tradition.

Lin, a native of Keelung, grew up attending temple ceremonies. Before setting up the LLDT in 1995, she had spent 10 years conducting field work on Taiwanese folk traditions, collecting material on indigenous music and dance, ritual dances, temple rites, and religious music.

A graduate of the Chinese Culture University, Lin founded her dance company with the aim of presenting large-scale performances that reflect the spirit and culture of her native country. The dance troupe’s majestically elegant, unique approach has also made it a favorite at renowned international festivals, such as Festival d’Avignon, Lyon Dance Biennial and Festival de Otoño, where the troupe has attracted a host of enthusiastic admirers.

Often described as mythical, primitive and meditative styles, Lin’s choreography is deeply rooted to the earth, a contrast to the upward movements of Western contemporary dance.

In 2002, Lin was named among the eight most significant choreographers in the world by ARTE, one of the most important art and culture television channels in Europe. Hailed as"a genius choreographer in Taiwan’s dance scene,” the distinguished dancer-choreographer, together with playwright Wang An-chi, film director Hou Hsiao-hsien, novelist Cheng Ching-wen and composer Chien Nan-chang, received the National Award for the Arts in 2005. The National Award for Arts, given out by the National Culture and Arts Foundation (NCAF), is the highest artistic honor in Taiwan.

The Legend Lin Dance Theatre founder and choreographer Lin Lee-chen at the 2013 International Cervantino Festival in Mexico. (Photo courtesy of Jin Cheng-cai)“Dancer and choreographer Lin has combined her own life experiences and introspection to create a dance of the Eastern aesthetic tradition. Her works vividly show the artistic spirit of Taiwan,” according to a statement issued by the Taipei-based NCAF.

Lin has spent the past 20 years creating three modern dance pieces – Mirrors of Life (Miroirs de Vie, 1995), Anthem to the Fading Flowers (Hymne aux Fleurs Qui Passent, 2000), and Song of Pensive Beholding (Chants de la Destinee, 2009) – which are her three-part tribute to Heaven, Earth and Man.

A show-stealer at the Festival d’Avignon in 1998, Mirrors of Life was inspired by the Jiao, a Daoist open-air ceremony held during the Ghost Festival in the seventh lunar month, when the angry spirits of the un-cared-for dead are temporarily allowed to return to the world of the living. Having grown up in the harbor town of Keelung, where the Jiao has been practiced for centuries, Lin was a frequent witness to the power and beauty of this appeasement ceremony. Thus, her Mirrors of Life is considered an aesthetic tribute to this local cultural tradition.

In its many appearances overseas, the dance company has won praise from critics and audiences alike. Its Anthem to the Fading Flowers, which pays tribute to the cycle of the seasons and the complementary principles of Yin and Yang, garnered the Prix du Public at the 9th Biennale de la Danse de Lyon in 2000 and broke attendance records at the Festival de Otoño the following year. This dance piece was subsequently performed in Italy, Germany, Austria, the U.S. and Mexico, bringing the local dance company onto the world stage.

Regarded as the result of nine-year germination, Song of Pensive Beholding proved a smash hit when it premiered in Taipei in December 2009 as one of the National Theater Concert Hall flagship productions, the culmination of the trilogy that Lin had begun almost 15 years before.

This long-awaited dance piece has not only completed Lin’s three-part tribute to Heaven, Earth and Man, but also served as a witness to the distinguished choreographer’s originality by transforming her concerns for local culture into her own distinct dance vocabulary that once again stuns the world stage. After its debut at the National Theater in Taipei, this production was invited to Hong Kong World Culture Festival, Maison de la Culture d’Amiens, Théâtre national de Chaillot, and Maison de la Danse de Lyon in 2011.

Inspired by watching the eagles at the Keelung Harbor, the choreographer presented the final work of the series – Song of Pensive Beholding. This 2009 work was drawn from a mythical story: a spirit, the White Bird, is engaged to be married to the Earth but instead betrays her vows with one of two Eagle brothers.

Taipei Ling-an Club features prominently in the birthday parade of Taipei Xiahai City God Temple on the 13th day of the fifth lunar month, which falls on June 28 this year. (Photo courtesy of Taipei Ling-an Club)“This piece represents the essence of Lin’s personal life experiences and epitomizes the spiritual boundaries of art,” a DCA official said."She also discusses Eastern philosophy and indigenous traditions within a contemplative framework of symbolism.”

Over the past two decades, Lin has developed a technique that emphasizes calmness, stability and tranquility. Her dancers spend most of the performance walking ever so slowly, half-crouched or bent slightly forward, their upper body completely still. Lin’s world is filled with mesmerizing geometry and studied stillness that brings viewers into a mythical reality. To put it simply, Lin attains Zen-like clarity through the ritual of dancing.

A 10-year long documentary project, titled The Walkers directed by Taiwanese filmmaker Singing Chen in 2014, explores the choreographer’s life, production and dance company. Chen often lets the film speak for itself. Seeing The Walkers as an offering rather than a creation, the director lays out Lin’s story and philosophy beautifully.

The Legend Lin Dance Theatre will return to the National Theater in Taipei for long-anticipated performances of Anthem to the Fading Flowers from September 17 through September 20 this year in an effort to celebrate the dance troupe’s 20th anniversary. But all tickets were sold out months ago.

Apart from the LLDT, Taipei Ling-an Club also received the 2015 Taipei Culture Award for its major contributions to the local cultural scene. Established in 1871, the beiguan musical group has been considered the oldest of its kind in Taiwan and registered by the capital city as an intangible cultural heritage.

General Xie, a giant judicial deity, shows up in the birthday parade of Taipei Xiahai City God Temple on the 13th day of the fifth lunar month, which falls on June 28 this year. (Photo courtesy of Taipei City Archives Committee)Beiguan is one of the main traditional music genres in Taiwan and is characterized by the use of cymbals, drums, gongs and woodwind instruments.

Each year the club also features prominently in the birthday parade of Taipei Xiahai City God Temple on the 13th day of the fifth lunar month, which falls on June 28 this year. The procession aims to pay respects to the deities tasked with escorting the spirits of the dead.

Even though the younger generation has increasingly lost interest in the history of Chinese traditional art and culture, the club still devotes itself to the tradition of beiguan music and martial arts performances, playing a part in last year’s local box-office hit Twa-Tiu-Tiann about the deity processions.