038 is the telephone code for Hualien, a small city on the east coast of Taiwan and it is the first few numbers the many emigrants to the bigger cities must dial to phone home. What is home if you have to leave and what is home when your return is no less fraught? This is the question posed by this group of ten young girls, who have trained together for ten years since the age of ten with Kuo-Shin Chuang and his Pangcah Dance Theatre. This is a beautifully moving show of dance, soundscape and film where the contemporary, urban world and rural tribal inheritance meet.
A beautifully moving show of dance, soundscape and film where the contemporary, urban world and rural tribal inheritance meet.
The show opens with the sound of the sea. In the blackout there is one ray of light which lightens to reveal the group, bare foot, all in long grey robes, their black hair loose or in pony-tails. Moving in a block to electronic music, their heads fall backwards and forwards, shoulders shake, their arms stretch out to the audience then move across their own bodies to hold hands, reminiscent of their traditional tribal dances. At one point they cover their mouths with their hands. The movements are restless, repetitive as they circle the stage in tiny, jerking steps. They appear to be automatons, their emotions repressed, trapped in a relentless cycle of city life. At times, they run, going nowhere.
A sequence of sitting and vacating rows of chairs suggesting their trip home to Hualien by high speed train is equally stressful when the girls can not afford the price of a seat and have to relinquish their seats to a ticket-holder. Real life recordings of train noises and station announcements in the Hualien (also called Amis) language create the scene. As they near home, beautiful film of the landscape and coast give way to shots of the danger they are returning to; swaying palm trees and wild seas of the typhoon season. At a deeper level, this suggests that home-coming is not necessarily happy and there may be more than financial reasons for leaving.
In the last scene, the music is mixed with the sound of the ocean waves and the traditional chant of female elders as the group embrace and pace in a circle. It is an emotional moment and one only hopes that they can resolve their split lives, balancing urban life and modernity with keeping hold of their tribal inheritance. It is a problem that so many people share throughout the world, when the young have to leave the countryside for the cities.
Incidentally, August is the typhoon season in Taiwan and the group were lucky that their plane was the last to take off before the airport was shut down. It is lucky for us too in Edinburgh that we have the privilege of seeing these talented young dancers.