Butterflies in Taipei

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Over four hundred and twenty species of butterfly have been recorded in Taiwan and suddenly it feels as if they are all in the room. A large group of residents from the Da-long Senior Home in the north of Taipei are sitting together in a circle and by some strange alchemy it is as if their hands have all been transmogrified into butterflies. Fluttering wings are leading a mass of bodies into a gentle choreography of stretches, twists and turns. It’s part of a magical workshop led by choreographer Wei-chia su whose work forms part of a wider arts outreach programme run by the National Theatre of Taipei.

Witnessing the trust and qualities of listening that are present in the room I imagine that artist and participants have all been working together for months but after the session, I learn that this is the first time they have all met. Wei-chia su talked about his process of paying close attention to the physical presence and qualities of all in the group, subtly changing the form and content of the session to meet the wide-ranging needs of different bodies and personalities.

In curating these transitory encounters between exceptional artists and elders, the team at the National Theatre of Taipei are effectively exploring the resonant boundaries between art, performance and care. In the communal space of the care home something raw and immediate was happening: a thrilling and spontaneous encounter between artist and people.

I have written elsewhere about the huge synergies between the processes of care and creativity. Both demand a forensic application of both attention and responsiveness. Both need to be delivered with responsibility and competence. At heart both care and creativity share the same principles.

A few weeks earlier in Saitama, Japan I had been immersed in ‘Night Never Gets Darker’, a performance work co-created by Sugawara Naoki, an actor, theatre director and certified carer. In addition to his work as a theatre director Sugawara Naoki has applied theatrical techniques and processes to enhance the skills needed for staff teams providing care for people living with dementia. In London, within Entelechy Arts and the Albany’s ‘Meet Me’ programme we have appointed our first occupational therapist to work alongside sculptors, poets, dancers and musicians.

In March of this year, Taiwan’s Ministry of the Interior announced that the country had become an “aged society”. This means that (according to the World Heath Organisation’s ageing rate) the country has 14% of the population over 65. Projections suggest that in 8 years’ time this will rise to over 21% making the country (along with South Korea and Singapore) the world’s first super ageing society ahead of Japan and the US. For the arts community to effectively respond to these massive global demographic changes, to effectively support the creative aspirations and access requirements of the new older, old, we will have to imagine new, often hybrid ways of working. And one of the most powerful ways of effecting this must be through an exchange of international experiences and learning.

My visit to the Da-long Senior Home was part of a wonderfully crowded two days of visits to arts and older people’s groups in Taipei hosted by the British Council. Hopefully this is the beginning of ongoing conversations between older arts working in London and the artists they work with and artists and people in Taipei. Watch this space.

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