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September 21, 2017

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Indigenous choreographer lends hand to typhoon-hit hometown

TAITUNG, Taiwan -- Bulareyaung Pagarlava has traveled far as an internationally recognized choreographer, but for villagers in the tribal community of Chialan Village in the eastern Taiwan's Taitung County, the young man, who grew up in the village, remains very close to them because he has never hesitated to contribute to his hometown.

The 35-year-old young artist of the Paiwan tribe — one of 14 tribes of indigenous Austronesians in Taiwan — has long been devoted to his childhood community. His devotion was further demonstrated recently during the disaster brought by Typhoon Morakot, which struck Taiwan in early August, bringing the worst flooding and mudslides the island has seen in 50 years.

Bulareyaung and his partner Fang-yi Sheu —a highly acclaimed dancer— were working with dancers of the dance company they founded — LAFA and Artists Company — on Aug. 8 when the shocking scenes of floods washing away half of Chialan Village appeared on TV.

"I was not aware of it until after the rehearsal when I checked my cell phone and found numerous text messages from friends, including my teacher Lin Hwai-min of the Cloud Gate Dance Theatre, inquiring about the safety of my family there," Bulareyaung said, remembering the day that Typhoon Morakot's floods and mudslides brought deadly disaster to many regions in Taiwan.

"Seeing the heartbreaking scenes on TV, Fang-yi and I decided to visit my hometown and bring to my villagers the best support we can offer," he said.

Bulareyaung and Fang-yi, who was principle dancer at the Martha Graham Dance Company and has been constantly invited to perform in dance festivals in the United States and Europe, founded the LAFA in May 2007 in Taipei.

Despite the company being relatively young, its productions, such as "37 Arts" and "Single Room," have already been well received in international dance festivals in the past two years, though the founders' finances are far from sufficient in managing a dance company.

Having contacted his father who was evacuated with other villagers and being told that the villagers were safe, Bulareyaung and Fang-yi started collecting clothing and other supplies and sending them to Chialan Village.

Meanwhile, they were seeking ways to raise funds for the typhoon victims.

"We were rehearsing for the Taipei Arts Festival in September. Fang-yi and I decided that in addition to the three performances scheduled for September 4-6, we would present an extra performance in the evening of Sept. 6 to raise funds for the villagers," Bulareyaung said.

At the charity performance in Taipei, LAFA dancers presented the Bulareyaung choreographed "Lamentation", in addition to their regular repertoire "Ode to Joy".

The 15-minute production was derived from a four-minute piece of "Lamentation Variations," which Bulareyaung choreographed for the Martha Graham Dance Company's 2009 season presentations in New York in May.

On the night of the charity performance, the small theater of the Wen-Shan Branch of the Taipei Cultural Center was packed with audience members as Fang-yi, Bulareyaung and two other male dancers presented the compelling work in Gustav Mahler's Lieder eines fahrenden Gesellen.

In New York, Bulareyaung's "Lamentation" moved audiences as the evocation of grief through the movements of the dancers gave them a cathartic experience. The same experience was shared by his countrymen.

After the Taipei charity performance, which raised NT$720,000 (US$22,500) for typhoon victims, the couple traveled to Chialan Village.

We stayed at Chialan Village from Sept. 9-15, visiting the typhoon victims who were still living in tents set up at an elementary school, distributing supplies and relief money, NT$10,000 for each household, and cheering up the school children in their classrooms," Bulareyaung said.

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