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A glittering opening ceremony unfolds in Kaohsiung
A giant virtual stage energized by creative original music, artistic performances, lights and high tech production showcases a "Taiwan Impression" to define the harbor city in the coming century
By Hermia Lin
Taiwan News, Staff Reporter
Page 12
2009-07-17 12:24 AM
The eyes of Taiwan and the world were on Kaohsiung yesterday as a dazzling opening ceremony heralded the start of the World Games in this port city in southern Taiwan.

This is the first time Taiwan has hosted an international-level, large-scale multi-sports event in six decades. Some 4,000 performers took part in the ceremony, watched by an estimated 100 million people around the world as Kaohsiung introduced itself to the world stage for the first time, according to the Kaohsiung Organizing Committee.

The Games held in Kaohsiung are providing a platform for the world to understand Taiwan better, and yesterday they allowed locals to watch a spectacular opening show on a scale that has never before been experienced in Taiwan.

Directors of the opening ceremony conjured up a magic, dreamlike start to the 8th World Games in the opening show last night. The ceremony took place in the distinctive Main Stadium, a five-story open building occupying 19 hectares that is completely powered by solar energy and accommodates 40,000 spectators.

Before the night's festivities even began, performers from eight schools in southern Taiwan gave a dance that took its cue from traditional Taiwanese temple festivals to welcome the Games' guests, followed by marching bands, a mini concert and a VJ show that emanated strong hints of the characteristic vibrancy that can be seen everywhere in Kaohsiung.

Native fashion:

visually impressive

The 45-minute ceremony opened with an image suggesting the ocean, as hundreds of young dancers dressed in light blue costumes appeared against the virtual stage, which covered more than 4,000 square meters and was illuminated by ten giant projectors hanging from the top of the main stadium.

Satellite images of Taiwan's rivers were projected as the backdrop for the young dancers, who held white balloons to form water drops of all sizes on the virtual platform.

Taiwan's "eternal dancer" Lee Tsai-e, the first Taiwanese to study dance in Japan, evoked cries of amazement from the audience when she took center stage from an enormous six-meter tall flower and began to dance gracefully. The silent dance movement brought to mind the peacefulness of a calm sea.

Amid rising strains of music representing the waves of the ocean, images and words depicting the symbolism of Taiwan's aborigine peoples flowed across the virtual screen, unrolling chapters of the 6,000 year history of the island's earliest settlers.

As part of the "Beautiful Island" show, five large kites in the shape of eagles flew across the sky, and dancers performed the Boat Festival of the Dawu culture of Lanyu island and the Harvest Festival of the Amis people. The melodious music of the orchestra, which featured musicians from the Kaohsiung City Symphony Orchestra and Taipei National University of Arts, hushed briefly, leaving the beautiful voices of the Amis people to completely dominate the stage.

Starting from the music

Composer Chien Nan-chang, who has won acclaim around the world for his successful combination of the characteristics of local music and Western compositions into unique musical works, was invited to compose a 10-minute piece for the "Beautiful Island" show that conveys the feeling of images of the beautiful ocean, Taiwan's wide variety of butterfly and fish species, and the island's aboriginal ancestors.

Performances and choreography of the "Beautiful Island" show originated from and were inspired by Chien's music.

"Composers favor abstract images more than concrete ones when it comes to musical composition,"?said a frowning Chien, who loves to swim and participates in the mass swim across Sun Moon Lake in central Taiwan every year.

"So when I was told to create music for the ocean, I did not try to imitate the sound of waves; instead, I just wrote what entered my mind when I thought of the idea of ocean." Chien said his presentation for the ocean part came with strong hints of classical elements.

For the part depicting aboriginal culture, the composer applied huge amounts of percussion and beat-boxing. He put together phonetic sounds from aboriginal languages from his other collections, and had soldiers from the country's armed forces reproduce the phonetic sounds. The effect was sensationally dramatic.

Chien studied music at Chinese Culture University and pursued further musical studies in Munich for six years. He has created 57 music compositions, and more than 400 performances using Chien's compositions have been staged over the past 35 years. He was a recipient of the prestigious National Culture and Art Award for music in 2005.

Chien's "Maiden of Malan," a work for solo, chorus and orchestra that features eight aboriginal folk songs, was selected as the music for the six-minute firework display that came after the opening ceremony. Other composers recruited for music creation were Chung Yiu-kwong, Ric, and Koji Sakurai.

Taiwan's cultural icons

in mega theater

Performances of the "Prayer of the People"?pageant and "Dynamic Kaohsiung" show followed the "Beautiful Island"?presentation, featuring lights, audio and visual effects and high tech artistry which went hand in glove with authentic Taiwanese culture. Performances included the Third Prince on motorbike, gods and generals streaming in all directions, Taiwan's ultra-marathon runner Kevin Lin leading a team of Giant bikers with LEDs installed on the bikes, and stage props and costumes glowing in the light.

In popular religion in Taiwan, the Third Prince is a divinely conceived trickster with supernatural powers who defied both his earthly father and heaven.

The presentation of the "Prayer of the People"?was created to reflect the local people's religious faith and practices.

To maximize the visual and sensory impact on the audience, the opening show introduced the island's highly popular Pili puppet show, with 200 Pili puppet masters entering the stage along with ten panoramic stage carts.

Unlike traditional puppet shows, Pili puppet shows use state-of-the-art animation to help present fighting scenes. The delicately designed appearance and characteristics of each puppet have made Pili puppet shows one of the most well-known entertainment acts in Taiwan. The cultural phenomenon of puppet-based cosplay has generated a great deal of interest among and research by local academic circles for more than a decade.

While the legendary puppet characters were fighting on the broadcast LED screen during the ceremony, fireworks in different colors and sizes were fired across the sky from the stage carts, creating stunning visual effects that could arguably be claimed the best ever seen in Taiwan.

Kaohsiung in the spotlight

The opening show climaxed as runner Kevin Lin led a group of 40 bikers across images of digital satellite maps that appeared virtually onstage, presenting in order the world, Asia and Taiwan, and finally focusing in on Kaohsiung. Then 200 dancers dressed in steel worker uniforms gave an exciting street dance, a symbol indicating that the port city has reinvented itself from a hard working and diligent industrial city to an environment of leisure and ease.

Stunt performers climbed a 10-meter tall steel structure to pull out a giant triangular white canvas, providing an oceanic atmosphere for dancers in pairs on the stage. Among the dancers were Chen Peng-yu, who performs with American Repertory Ballet, Wu Yi-fang, now serving as arts director of Wind Dance Theater, who was formerly a principal dancer and rehearsal with the Cloud Gate Theatre for 15 years, and Lin Li-chuan, who was with the American Repertory Ballet.

These internationally acclaimed young Taiwanese dancers were recruited to help lift the visibility of the Games in Kaohsiung on the international stage.

The splendid opening show ended when local female singer Tiger Huang, Shin, former lead singer of Shin Band, international singers Russel Watson and Heyley Westenra took to the stage as thousands of colorful balloons were released into the air, with giant "Welcome to Kaohsiung" images and words projected on the virtual stage.

Originality matters

The kickoff of the World Games in Kaohsiung was designed and engineered by Art Director Tchen Yu-chiou, a renowned Taiwanese musician. Tchen directs the National Concert Hall and the National Theater Hall and is a keen researcher and explorer of Taiwan's culture. She has spent the previous two years mapping out the opening ceremony, which for her was a great sense of accomplishment despite a modest budget and painstaking effort.

"All the programs and music presented at the opening are original creations by local artists, and can only be seen in Taiwan," said Tchen in an interview with the Taiwan News before the opening show.

"Of course we could have bought a program from an international company, but for such a rare event in Taiwan, originality is always highest on our list of priorities."?Originality here meant late rehearsals, a tight work schedule, hundreds of meetings for Tchen, her production team and Kaohsiung City Government employees, who have worked tirelessly over the past few months.

The team included Michael Tu, chief project leader; Ju Tzong-ching, chief director; Ping Heng, chief producer; Lee Hsiao-ping, show director; Chu Te-yi, visual director; Akibo Lee, visual designer; Koji Sakurai, music director; Wang Yun-yu, chief choreographer; and Lin Chia-wen, technical director, just to name a few.

Ju is the founder of Ju Percussion, one of the most important modern percussion groups in Asia, while Ping is an internationally renowned dancer, and Lee is an actor and the director of Taiwan's most important Chinese opera group, the National Guoguang Opera Company.

The combination of Tchen, more than 1, 000 professional art workers, and thousands of local students translated into an unforgettable opening ceremony that comes once in a lifetime for most people in Taiwan.

When asked Tchen whether she felt exhausted after all the hard work, the elegant but firm director said she was delighted to be involved in such an international event as it gave her a chance to utilize her creativity to the fullest.

The image of the main stadium designed by Japanese architect Toyo Ito looks like two hands holding out to embrace the world, which can be seen as a sign that Kaohsiung is eager to be embraced by the world in the future.

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