Butoh, Taichi and Dance in Taiwan: Writing Bodies and Identities
The cultural significance of this paper lies in the attempt to map out a new inter-Asian approach to dance study, explicating the intriguing relationships between identity, body, and dance. In Taiwan, the modern dance world has been dominated by Euro-American traditions such as Martha Graham's psychological expressionism. This can be observed in many works of Cloud Gate, Taiwan's flagship modern dance company. Since the late 1980s, Butoh-the post-war Japanese 'new' dance form was introduced to Taiwan and started exercising impact on local dance culture. This paper seeks to relate dance to identity constitution in the specific context of contemporary Taiwan, juxtaposing detailed analyses of two performances: Water Moon by Cloud Gate and King of Moments by Yellow Butterfly in Southern Sky (the first Taiwan-based Butoh dance company). Both dances have slow tempos; their movements centered at the lower part of the body. This marks clearly a difference from the western modern dance traditions that tend to stress speedy, upward movements of anti-gravity. However, Water Moon inspired by Taichi composes a soft, flowing view of body whose shadow is reflected on water on the stage. King of Moments stands in sharp contrast with the white-painted bodies that are twisted and trembling in an atmosphere of startling festivity. Butoh often referred as 'dance of the dark soul' focuses on the microcosmic performativity of the dancing body. The Tao philosophy and Taichi exercise highlights also the internal drive of a moving body. Both Butoh and Taichi have enabled transformation of the established dance aesthetics in Taiwan and challenged the old assumptions of identity inscribed through dance and body. This paper examines how Butoh and Taichi aesthetics have been appropriated and how such appropriation is engaged in the conceptualization of Taiwanese body, and consequently, the construction of identity.
Keywords: dance, aesthetics, Butoh, Taichi, body, identity, Taiwan, inter-Asia
Dr. Shu-Mei Wei
Assistant Professor, Department of Applied Foreign Languages, Ching Yun University