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Dancing with Nostalgia in Taiwanese Contemporary "Traditional" Dance


This dissertation focuses on Taiwanese contemporary choreographies that incorporate traditional materials. I examine the works of two female-led dance companies in Taiwan: Pilgrimage, staged by Taipei Folk Dance Theater in 2004 and Jiao, performed by Legend Lin Dance Theater in 1995 and in 2006. My dissertation engages with interdisciplinary perspectives on the concept of nostalgia. Focusing especially on the dancing body, which is living and changing, I theorize a body-based understanding of engagements with nostalgia, and argue for the dancing body a site of nostalgic negotiation. This approach reevaluates the critical possibility of Asian dance practices and offers a critique to the binary ideology between the West and the East.

In chapter one, I demonstrate how, historically, Taiwanese female choreographers engaged nostalgically with "traditional" Chinese Min-Zu dance in ways that somehow empowered them in post-war Taiwan. In chapter two, I discuss the development of Taiwanese subjectivity after the 1980s and suggest that another kind of nostalgia, focusing on local culture, was generated widely during this period. My discussions of the search for Taiwanese cultural symbols and the desire to redefine Taiwanese bodies provide historical and political background that situates the two dance companies analyzed later.

In chapter three, I examine how Li-Hua Tsai, the choreographer of Pilgrimage, incorporates folk elements that highlight female spirituality in this dance. I suggest this dance piece negotiates different nationalism(s) in its attempt to fulfill the audiences' and governmental desires for the staging of cultural representations of Taiwan. Tsai's self-positioning in the local culture of Taiwan also achieves visibility in the international folk dance festivals. In chapter four, I explore how Lee-Chen Lin, the creator of Jiao, constructs a specific body aesthetic that demonstrates a body-based nostalgia, one that choreographs both her local resistance and her niche in the global market. By exploring how contemporary women choreographers in Taiwan continue to engage with their different longings, I bring Asian female choreographers back into dance discourses and recognize their complicated strategies of choreographing nostalgia(s) that bridge not only the past and the present, but also the local and the global.

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