As in the first visit, we followed the journey of our current students who had chosen to study with us and so, over 12 exhilarating days in February 2020, Baptiste Bourgougnon, Head of Technique and Performance, and I returned to Singapore and then moved on to Taiwan.
During the visit we walked over 80 miles, met with the Ministry of Education in Singapore and visited 5 universities - LASALLE, Nanyang School of Fine Arts (NAFA), National University of Singapore (NUS), Tainan University of Technology (TUT), Taiwan National University of the Arts (TNUA), two colleges – Singapore School of the Arts (SOTA) and Tsoying Senior High School and visited the awe-inspiring 1.5 million square feet National Kaohsiung Arts Centre, the world’s largest arts centre.
We held 3 auditions and 3 masterclasses, agreed a new Memorandum of Cooperation with Taiwan National University of the Arts and developed three new partnerships with Nanyang School of Fine Arts Singapore, Tainan University of the Arts and Tsoying Senior High School, whilst reaching out to five new Senior High Schools in Taiwan – National Chupei, Chia Chi, National Taiwan Normal, New Taipei Qing Shui, Taipei Municipal Zhong Zeng in the process.
Above all, we began to understand the impact of LCDS over five decades coupled with the need to “lean in” to conversations with international colleagues around the development of training, education, production and presentation of artists in contemporary dance in the context of a global community.
Concerns from UK family, friends and colleagues regarding the risks amidst the backdrop of the coronavirus pandemic were echoed by colleagues in Singapore. Closures of events with more than 40 people and temperature checks abound had left some public spaces far quieter than normal. Professor Michael Earley, Dean of Performing Arts at LASALLE described how the prevalent threat also created the opportunity to innovate and consider new forms of technological collaboration.
SOTA remains a beacon of excellence in the heart of an ambitious country. The young International Baccalaureate students demonstrate high levels of skill and engagement led by a faculty which features Chia Poh Hian LCDS BA Hons graduate 2003 and Foo Yun Ying LCDS MA graduate 2009. Foo Yun Ying commented that she believes there is a need to support the development of independent artists and is interested in how artists can better marry artistic development with community engagement programmes. Both priorities signal the closeness of our thinking.
Meeting up with LCDS alumni BA Hons graduates 2018 Jie-Ying Nah and Titisa Jeamsakul “Ice” was nothing short of inspiring. They updated us on their work with Singaporean companies, The Human Experience (THE) and Arts Fission respectively. They both demonstrate creativity and adventurous approaches to lifelong learning through performance, choreography, research and community arts practice. Their reflections on their time at LCDS serve to illustrate the importance of a creative education and the dynamism of international exchange. They of course have already learnt through a lived experience about cultural exchange and we are simply playing catch up. But in our conversation, it becomes abundantly clear that they both have the potential to lead the next generation of artists and artist movements in Singapore.
In follow up, I was fortunate to relay this achievement to the second Permanent Secretary, Ministry of Education Singapore Ms Wai Lin Lai. We had a conversation about structure and federations for education as well as the importance of place-making. Both LASALLE, NAFA and SOTA enjoy proximity and there is excitement about how this can be further amplified (in ways that are quite like the Knowledge Quarter space here in London).
Our journey to southern Taiwan proved to be a further adventure and was initiated through our current Taiwanese undergraduate students Hsin-yu Wu and Yu-Chen Wu who independently attended the 2019 auditions at SOTA. On this leg of the trip we first met with Professor Anne Hayward, a PhD colleague of Dr Lise Uytterhoeven based at Tainan University of Technology, where we imagined new possibilities for exchange and communication. The following day we met Jack Kuo, Deputy Director of the National Kaohsuing Art Centre via a contact from our Artistic Director, Eddie Nixon. The arts centre was impressive in its scale and scope and reminded me of the concept of the Northern Powerhouse in its call for a rebalance between north and south.
We were graciously hosted at a wonderful “vegetable” restaurant (rather than vegetarian or vegan) by the Principal and President of Tsoying High School ahead of an audition for 20 young dancers from six Senior High Schools and two Universities the following day.
Su Ling who leads the dance department at Tsoying was most gracious and kind in explaining the education provision in Kaohsiung. It was a steadfast reminder of what government investment in education can achieve and so it was hard not to feel saddened by the loss of the arts and dance provision in schools in the UK.
North Taiwan by contrast was more cosmopolitan and the panoramic views from the World Trade Center, demonstrated just that. There was no shortage of moped riders advancing on every corner and a great many places to eat at affordable prices.
Taiwan University of the Arts is a 30-minute drive away from the centre of Taipei and is set in considerable acreage on the side of the mountain. The imposing concrete buildings boast outstanding views looking back to the city as well as the mountainside, while inside we were welcomed by the wonderfully friendly Dance Team headed up by Professor Zhang Ziao-xing and Yatin Lin. Our resulting conversations identified the opportunity for student and staff exchange. Their programmes enviably demonstrate an “east meets west” culture. Eastern influence and dance culture features strongly across the programmes and we caught glimpses of workshop sessions being taught by TNUA alumni from Bill T Jones and Hofesh Schechter Dance Companies.
With the creation of a new vision for “a world with more dance”, our return in February 2020 has sought to build partnerships whilst supporting an “enquiry” into the relevance of our work ahead of the fundamental five-year review of our undergraduate and postgraduate programmes. At the same time, it has deepened our knowledge, appreciation and respect for the contemporary dance culture in Singapore and Taiwan.