Liou Shaw-lu: a dancer who dances to the last moment

(Photo credit: Taipei Dance Circle)  

Chinese Name
: 劉紹爐

Born: 1949

Birthplace: Hsinchu County (Northern Taiwan)

Born in 1949 in Zhudong Township, Hsinchu County, Liou Shaw-lu grew up in a farming family. In 1968, he entered the Physical Education Department of National Taiwan Normal University and was enlightened by Taiwan’s dance pioneer Liu Feng-xue (劉鳳學) in the dance class, which laid the foundation for Liou’s pursuit of modern dance. In 1973, he joined the Cloud Gate Dance Theatre (雲門舞集) as a founding member. In 1984, he co-founded the Taipei Dance Circle (光環舞集) with his wife, Yang Wan-rong (楊宛蓉), who is also a dancer.

Almost every piece created in the troupe has Hakka elements. Traditional Hakka culture has songs but no dance, which means that Hakka people in the old days did not dance. But the absence of Hakka dance gave Liou a lot of creative space. Liou incorporated tea-picking or folk songs opera into his dances, and then combined that with body language. For instance, in tea picking, the dancers’ flexible finger gestures give the dance Hakka characteristics.

In 1994, the first modern dance with baby oil as a medium was published. The dance style was second to none in the world of its kind and the troupe was invited to perform in countries around the world. In the current dance art, the Hakka spirit is invisibly integrated into the dances.

Liou had been engaged in dance choreography for more than 20 years. He had repeatedly incorporated Hakka music and literature into the compilation of dances, such as inspiration from Chung Li-he’s novel “The Old Man Who Dug Stone.” In 2003, he choreographed a large-scale dance titled “Pingban (平板),” the same name as a type of Hakka mountain songs, transforming the elements of Hakka music and dance into the performance of modern dance. In 2005, “Man Shan Suo (滿山)” was published, which incorporates the Hakka three-role tea-picking opera and farming scenes into the dance. It’s made in combination with the contemporary composers Yen Chih-wen (顏志文) and Lin Sheng-xiang’s (林生祥) Hakka music, creating interdisciplinary Hakka art.

Liou believes that Hakkas are artistically talented and have the sense of improvisation. They are also an ethnic group that advocates freedom. Once they are oppressed, they will migrate, and each migration will produce new possibilities. Therefore, novelty is also the traditional spirit of Hakka people. Liou stressed that when tasting the beauty of the works left by the ancestors, Hakka people should remember to foster the creation for the next generation.

Liou had hoped that Taiwan will become a world Hakka center one day. He believed that Hakkas have always had two distinct characteristics. On the one hand, they have the spirit of freedom like the Gypsies, and on the other hand, they have the diligent character of the Jews. He was certain that if the Hakkas in Taiwan can actively engage in international exchanges, Taiwan will be a stronghold of Hakka for the globe.

Liou had persisted in the spirit of innovation, embraced ethnic sentiments with his international reputation, and injected new life and contemporary significance into Hakka arts. For his contributions, he was awarded the Hakka Contribution Award in 2007.

In 2010, Liou unfortunately suffered from brain cancer, but only half a year after undergoing surgery, he returned to the stage. He danced to the last moment before he fell ill again. His abiding passion for dance is touching. In 2014, Liou died from disease. The Taipei Dance Circle announced its official closure in June 2019. On this difficult road to innovative dance, the troupe has lasted for 34 years, experiencing brilliance and bitterness, and dance artist Liou, who led his dancers, wrote an unforgettable chapter in Taiwan’s art history. Although the dance troupe has closed, the light that shines through dance and art will never die, and will continue to glow.