Taiwan Season: Varhung – Heart to Heart

Varhung- Heart to Heart will touch your heart. A mesmerizing experience of exquisitely melded indigenous and contemporary dance, it is choreographed by Baru Madiljin of Tjimur Dance Theatre, whose explicit aim is to preserve and transform the Taiwanese minority Paiwan people’s culture into an expressive body language for today.

Varhung: Heart to Heart will touch your heart.

Three performers (two male, one female) Ching-Hao Yang, Ljaucu Tapurakac and Tzu-En Meng, dressed in peasant outfits of rough cotton tunics over loose trousers dance mainly in unison, their movements imitating the picking, cutting, drying and peeling of the shell ginger plant which the villagers harvest yearly on the mountains. Their swaying, repetitive movements continue throughout the show creating a hypnotic effect and heightened experience for the audience. Balancing on one leg while raising the other is a key movement, the technique of the dancers evident as there is rarely a wobble, and these continue throughout in what must be an exhausting test for the dancers. Yet at the end of the show, the legs are even higher and their energy is amazing.

The traditional “Four Step” dance with hands linked and crossing (evoking the sense of a community) is woven into more contemporary moves as the performance progresses and these become larger and wilder. Baru Madiljin says that he is influenced by Akram Khan, Tao Dance company and Pina Bausch and the latter is particularly evident in the use of speech when they break away from each other and continually cry out “anemaq?” (why?) or “makudja?” (what happened?). Since the Paiwan people often keep their feelings locked inside, their traditional songs help express emotion and the show culminates in haunting songs, the two male voice particularly beautiful as the story of a broken love emerges.

Glancing at the songs listed in the programme, there are some intriguing titles such as “An old hag that wears shoes and stomps over people’s stomachs at night making them breathless”. The audience too will be breathless at the emotional power of this extraordinary show.

Reviews by Stephanie Green

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The Blurb

Taiwan’s premier indigenous dance-theatre company presents a richly patterned, open-hearted performance in which private feelings are on the verge of being made public. Both physically and emotionally charged, Tjimur’s work embraces a bounty of intoxicating, artfully expressed sensations. Working in close collaboration with the company’s founding artistic director Ljuzem Madiljin, in-house choreographer (and sibling) Baru Madiljin and three dynamic dancers bring ancient Paiwan cultural traditions up to date. They know every human heart holds profound secrets. Their appealing, fine-tuned awareness lends the unique personal and tribal impulses of Varhung a distinctly universal resonance.