Taiwan Season returns with a virtual programme for 2020
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- 2 July 2020
Edinburgh Festival Fringe favourite presents Connecting with Taiwan symposium this August
Launched in 2014, the Taiwan Season has become a hot tip at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe by showcasing a wealth of dance, theatre and live performance. This year, responding to the challenge of COVID-19, the organisers have cooked up a virtual programme of cultural close encounters. Spread across 16 sessions (including four repeats) from Tuesday 4 to Friday 28 August, the online symposium Connecting with Taiwan is a thrice-weekly series of scintillating artist interviews (Tuesdays, 1–1.45pm) and in-depth webinars (Wednesdays and Fridays, 1–3pm).
During the past six Augusts, the Taiwan Season has grown into enough of an Edinburgh Festival Fringe favourite that the restrictions imposed by a global pandemic simply aren't going to hold it back. This year the popular showcase of dance, theatre and live performance created in the island state has morphed into Taiwan Season Online Symposium 2020.
Subtitled Connecting with Taiwan, aimed at forging new links with members of the global arts industry and moderated by veteran UK arts journalist Donald Hutera, this ambitious month-long event unfolds as a weekly programme of virtual close encounters with presenters and producers, curators and directors, researchers and educators, dancers and choreographers, composers and performances artists hailing from Taiwan and abroad.
The schedule is easily grasped. Each Tuesday (and repeated every Thursday) from Tue 4 Aug there is a revealing 45-minute interview with the head of one of four dance companies that had been set to present their work at the Fringe – until, that is, the world went viral. On Wednesdays and Fridays, starting Wed 5 and Fri 7 Aug, the focus shifts to a series of webinars. These in-depth examinations of a handful of topics are ideal for anyone curious about the current state of the arts in Taiwan, or keen to know how to tap into them.
First up on the Tuesday roster is Touchdown (Tue 4 Aug). Hao Cheng's background in mathematics gives him a unique perspective on abstract ideas and flesh-and-blood performance. His dynamic solo for Incandescence Dance is a thrilling meeting of popular science and the poetry of motion, lending quantum physics fresh meaning and a human face.
Hung Dance's hallucinatory ensemble work Boundless (Tue 11 Aug) has been compared to being inside the mind of someone trying to find their way out of a troubled dream. Although this intense, darkly imaginative performance uses props from traditional culture, the atmosphere is complex and decidedly contemporary.
Drawn from one of the keystones of classical Chinese literature, the buoyant production Fighters (Tue 18 Aug) by Nai-Hsuan Yang's company Les Petites Choses Production is fierce fun. Five godly characters spring to life in an engaging fusion of hip hop and contemporary dance enhanced by a folk-techno soundtrack.
In The Back of Beyond (Tue 25 Aug), Tai Gu Tales Dance Theatre's extraordinary dancers go on an arresting physical and spiritual journey merging Eastern cultural traditions and contemporary Western practices. The result is a charged theatrical dream-ritual charting the cycle of life from birth to death and rebirth.
The Symposium's webinar strand commences Wed 5 and Fri 7 Aug with a two-part probe into The Present and Future of Taiwan Arts and Culture Centres. Each session is led by the independent curator and producer Huey-mei Lee, but only the first features Verity Leigh, programme manager of the leading Fringe venue Summerhall. Similarly, only the second session brings Morag Deyes, artistic director of Scotland's national dance house, Dance Base, into the mix. Both are highly-regarded venues and Taiwan Season's regular presenting partners in Edinburgh. Lee and all of her guest speakers will look at the spectrum of Taiwan's major and cross-regional venues, their richly-varied programming policies and potential for international collaboration.
Disability Arts is next in the spotlight. Lee-Chun Yao, director of Guling Street Avant-garde Theatre and Body Phase Studio, provides an overview of what's happening in this sector in Taiwan from a personal perspective (Wed 12 Aug). He and guests from Scotland and Taiwan then present case studies and performance excerpts (Fri 14 Aug).
Independent artist and curator River Lin hosts the ensuing pair of sessions (Wed 19 and Fri 21 Aug) which looks at live art, interdisciplinary performance practices and cross-cultural collaborations by artists from across the Asia-Pacific region, Europe and beyond.
Cheng-Hua Chiang, head of programming and production for Pulima Art Festival, is responsible for the last brace of webinars. The first (Wed 26 Aug) sheds valuable light on the cultural context for indigenous dance productions in Taiwan. In the final session Chiang and guests from Taiwan and Australia share their experiences of curating and/or creating First Nation contemporary art in a mainstream context.
And what might be the result of all of the above activities? According to Pin-Chuan Chen, current head of Taiwan's London-based Cultural Division office, 'We're trying to spread the seeds of Taiwanese performing arts to an international platform.' The Connecting with Taiwan programme, he believes, will be a viable foundation upon which to build 'a lot of solid cultural exchange.'