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Dance review: tiaen tiamen Episode 1, Dunstan Playhouse

Experimental and futuristic, but with its heart grounded in Indigenous culture, this work is the first part of a trilogy about age.
tiaen tiamen. Image is abstract purple and green laser lighting patterns on black background with a crouching dancer wearing a loincloth and looking backwards in the bottom right hand corner

Youths are bold and free, but youths are also restrained – restrained by the traditions of the people before them, and the conventions of the world into which they are born. Bulareyaung Dance Company’s tiaen tiamen Episode 1 – the first part of the title means “me and us” in Paiwan – is a dynamic exploration of the identity of tiaen while finding our place within tiamen during youth. It is the first episode of the Paiwan Trilogy Pulima (youth), Puqulu (middle age) and Puvarung (old age). 

The performance begins with a Paiwan rhyme tranquilly sung by a dancer in a nude bodysuit, as the visual representation of a ripple caused by the vibration of his voice appears above him, like an innocent foetus yearning for connection. The song is disrupted by a mesmerising solo number by guest dancer aulu tjibulangan, accompanied by heavy bass electronic music. Chaotic, yet precise, tjibulangan’s fast-paced street dance-inspired movements declare the birth of a wild child. This powerful opening prepares the audience for a cultural story to be performed in an exciting contemporary manner.

The movements and the projection design are rhythmically choreographed to the sound. Occasionally, with the dancers and the graphics moving to different instruments in the composition, the stage translates into a visualisation of the score. Despite being a high audio content production, the audience can experience the beauty of the rhythm just by viewing it. 

Lee Chien-chang’s lighting design is brilliant and effective. When the dancers travel across the stage in unison, the red and green side light creates an illusion that is almost like a zoetrope animation. Another notable moment is when a dancer is boxed in by the use of an overhead laser. It is a wonderful visual representation of the conventional roles we so hope to fulfil, yet want to escape as we explore our identities. 

Throughout the performance, the dancers wear masks, concealing their individuality. The meaning of this is made clear in a brief solo number when a dancer takes off the mask and fights it. The mask represents the borrowed beliefs and worldviews we inherit from our communities. The mask is “us”. 

In the final sequence of the show, all the dancers wear masks indicating they have accepted their positions in their community. However, they also wear bodysuits with unique patterns. Together they chant the Paiwan rhyme previously sung in the opening. This time, it is no longer tranquil. It is loud, messy and desperate. Instead of connection, perhaps it yearns for reconnection. The ripple above them is no longer round as we have seen at the beginning. It is angled and shaped into a box, the box we try to escape but return to anyway. After that, emphasised by their individual dance styles and playing to the dancers’ various dance backgrounds, they embrace “me” while being part of “us”. 

Read: Theatre review: Every Brilliant Thing, New Benner Theatre

tiaen tiamen Episode 1 encapsulates the difficult journey of finding who we can be while retaining who we were born to be in a beautiful musical trance. It is experimental and futuristic, but with its heart grounded in Indigenous culture. tiaen tiamen Episode 1 is an exhilarating cultural experience.

tiaen tiamen Episode 1
Choreographer: Bulareyaung Pagarlava
Costume Designer: Keith Lin
Lighting Designer and Technical Director: Lee Chien-chang
Music Director: ABAO
Image Painting: Reretan Pavavaljung
Music Arranger and Mixer: Wenna
Projection Designer: Hsu Yi-chun             

Bulareyaung Dance Company
Artistic Director: Bulareyaung Pagarlava
Executive Director: Erin Liao
Administrator: Luo Rong-sheng
Dancers: aulu tjibulangan, giljigiljaw tjaruzalum, Kwonduwa Takio, Siyang Sawawan, Chen Sheng-chih, Kaniw Panay
Project Dancer: Hsu Ting-wei
Stage Manager: Chang Chin-yu
Projection Operator: Weng Yi-hsuan

tiaen tiamen Episode 1 is being performed at Dunstan Playhouse, Adelaide as part of OzAsia Festival from 19-21 October; tickets $30-59.

This review is published under the Amplify Collective, an initiative supported by The Walkley Foundation and made possible through funding from the Meta Australian News Fund.

Nicky Tsz Tung Li (She/her) is a Queer Hong Kong artist living on Kaurna land with a passion for experimental arts and music theatre. She is intrigued by the relationship between the arts and our society. In 2022, she took on a more socially responsible role of a cultural consultant for State Theatre Company of SA’s Single Asian Female and RUMPUS’s Coldhands. She is currently part of ActNow Theatre's Cultural Leadership Program and Nexus Arts' Interplay Development Program.