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Modern dance piece pays tribute to pro-democracy pioneer

2017/10/17 23:11:32

Taipei, Oct. 17 (CNA) A modern dance piece by late American choreographer Eleo Pomare that pays tribute to Taiwanese pro-democracy pioneer Nylon Cheng (鄭南榕) will be featured at an upcoming dance festival in Taipei, organizers of the festival announced Tuesday.

The piece, titled "Tableaux" (那個時代), will be performed at the 2017 Tsai Jui-Yueh International Dance Festival from Nov. 2-5.

It is inspired by the life and death of Cheng, who is often referred to as the "Father of Free Speech" in Taiwan and is known for setting himself on fire in 1989 to protest the lack of freedom of expression in the country.

The piece was choreographed by Pomare, whose works often touch on the topic of social injustice and the plight of black people.

(Eleo Pomare; photo courtesy of Tsai Jui-Yueh Culture Foundation)

("Tableaux"; photo courtesy of Tsai Jui-Yueh Culture Foundation)

Ondine Shiau (蕭渥廷), chairwoman of the Tsai Jui-Yueh Culture Foundation, invited Pomare to create the piece in 2004 after seeing one of his works in Australia in 2002 and being struck by its visual power.

Shiau said she invited Pomare to create the piece because she wanted the younger generation to learn more about Taiwan's history, and not just through textbooks.

"We hope to tell this history through dance because dancers, with their body language and movements, can more fully express Nylon Cheng's personality and his brave pursuit of human rights," Shiau told reporters at a dress rehearsal of the piece.

The piece begins with a group of dancers with empty-looking eyes swaying from left to right, and reaches a climax when a dancer impersonating Cheng pours a symbolic bucket of gasoline over himself to portray Cheng's self-immolation.

Shiau said the opening segment is about how tragedies often occur because of the indifference of the masses.

"By the end of the piece, you see the symbol of courage," she said.

"I hope that we are a nation of people with a sense of advocacy and with a personality, instead of wandering aimlessly about like the dancers at the beginning."

Poet Lee Min-yung (李敏勇), who also attended the rehearsal, said that even though martial law in Taiwan ended decades ago, some people's hearts are still imprisoned in the martial law era, and that "Tableaux" expresses the pain, oppression and sadness of the time.

"On the 30th anniversary of the lifting of martial law in Taiwan," he said, "we need to ask ourselves, 'has Taiwan made enough changes?' Is there anything else we need to reflect upon?"

In 1989, Nylon Cheng (or Cheng Nan-jung), was charged with insurrection after he reprinted a draft Constitution of the "Republic of Taiwan" in Freedom Era Weekly magazine, of which he was editor-in-chief.

He refused to appear in court and when police went to the magazine's office in Taipei to arrest him on April 7, 1989, he committed suicide by self-immolation.

At the time, any advocacy of replacing the Constitution with a new charter to establish a new nation was prohibited under Article 100 of the Criminal Code, with a maximum penalty of life imprisonment.

The article was amended in 1992 to stipulate that it was a punishable crime only if such advocacy involved the use of violence.

Last year, the Taiwanese government designated April 7 as Taiwan's Freedom of Speech Day to pay tribute to Cheng.

The Tsai Jui-Yueh International Dance Festival will take place at the Tsai Jui-yueh Dance Research Institute in Taipei Nov. 2-5.

(By Christie Chen)