I have been involved with Soulangh Cultural Park’s renovation of their Yizhen exhibit and we recently attended a seminar presented by 林茂賢 (professor of 台灣語文學系at Taichung’s 國立台中教育大學) to bring us all up to speed on Taiwan’s traditional arts. Great whirlwind presentation covering the basics of many of Taiwan’s traditional performance troupes.
Professor Lin gave an engaging presentation beginning with an overview of Taiwan’s Yizhen. I had to leave the presentation early to pick up my kids from school and he went through his material very quickly, with a lot of Taiwanese thrown in that I don’t understand, so, as much as I would like to, I can’t relate much of what he said in good faith but I was inspired to post about the Soulangh Pilgrimage I went to to take photos for the cultural park. Most of the writing is excerpts of the English text I provided them for their permanent exhibition.
The above two photos are the 108 person long centipede. The religious centipede troupe is composed of a long line of children dressed as historical figures or folk heroes riding on boards shouldered by bearers that resembles a centipede. It has the ability to dispel evil, avoid disaster and keep the peace, and clear the road of demons in Chinese folk religion.
Songjiang Battle Array’s origins are in the Chinese classic the Water Margin. Song Jiang Zhen was performed to honor the 108 heroes from Liang Shan and most likely came to Taiwan with Koxinga. It continued in Taiwan as a practical way to practice martial arts to defend rural villages which were often at the mercy of bandit groups and as a spiritual way to expel evil spirits.
Dragon dance is probably the oldest and has the longest continuous history of all the traditional Chinese folk performances. When performed well the auspicious dragon dance conjures realistic images of the mythical flying beast and brings color and excitement to festivals.
A fairly recent phenomenon sweeping Taiwan is Techno Santaizi. Techno Santaizi are traditional Santaizi Great God Generals — only lighter, cuter and cooler － that dance to techno music. This Taiwanese folk act exploded onto the world stage in the 2009 Kaohsiung World Games. See my longer article here
Lions have been dancing in China since the Three Kingdoms period and the many forms of lion dances created in China were imported to Taiwan with successive waves of immigrants. The lion dance in Taiwan is generally classified into open-mouth, predominantly found in northern Taiwan, and the closed-mouth more common in southern Taiwan. Closed mouth lions dance on the ground and have a great variety of performances, open mouth lions generally have higher dance postures and leave the ground on shoulders or a special stilt apparatus.
Yi Ge (詩意(shiyi)藝閣(yige)– roughly meaning poetry art pavilion) are elaborate floats portraying ancient poems, stories or heroes seen along the procession leading the pilgrims and protecting the gods.
Yige are often paid for by a local company or politician. This Yige was donated by a local legislator.
Dou Niu Zhen (Fighting Oxen Troupe) is a lighthearted look at the life of farmers in Taiwan, Dou Niu Zhen enacts a, often realistic, quarrel between two farmers and their oxen.
Drummers for Hsiung Wei lion dance troupe.
Bajiajiang or Eight Generals are a religious troupe whose fiercely painted faces are instantly recognizable at temple festivals. Bajiajiang protect certain — usually underworld — gods and can be described as officers of the nether world judicial system; they search out demon criminals, arrest, interrogate and punish them.
Great God Generals are the large god effigies worn on the shoulders of handlers often with large swinging arms commonly seen in Taiwan’s religious temple parades.
Dong Fang art troupe is a Tainan based dance troupe that incorporates modern dance elements into traditional temple performances such as Tiao Gu Zhen (Jump Drum Troupe), a unique folk art whose primary movement is the distinctive quick twisting of the hips and knees to the beat of the drums and cymbals. One of the main purposes of zhentou are to bring a festive atmosphere to temple festivals, Tiao Gu Zhen are the epitome of this; pure entertainment, and Dong Fang Folk Art troupe provide an elegant progressive element to this ancient art form.
Racy girls dance on large floats or on poles mounted on souped up jeeps — perhaps the evolution of the Electric Piano Yige, garishly decorated trucks with an opening in the back for dancing girls in popular in the 70’s, 80’s and nineties.
Incense officials often walk in the procession or take care of temple affairs during festivals.
A member of an acrobatic troupe from Taoyuan.
Soulangh 108 member centipede, February 22nd, 2014