4 October 2018 at 9:00 am

PMSA scholar dances his way to Taiwan

Xavier Muao Breed is a Master of Dance Studies student at the University of Auckland. In 2018, he received a Prime Minister’s Scholarship for Asia (PMSA) to undertake research at the Taipei National University of the Arts (TNUA) in Taiwan.

Xavier Muao BreedMy seven weeks in Taiwan has changed my life, inspired new career and life goals and given me tools to fuel my aspirations as a choreographer and diplomat. 

I had already been to Taiwan in 2017, when I was a visiting scholar doing research at the prestigious dance school within the Taipei National University of the Arts (TNUA). I did my thesis as part of my Postgraduate Diploma of Dance Studies for the University of Auckland.

My 2018 trip was focussed on learning and teaching indigenous dance and allowed me to reconnect with relationships I’d built the previous year, as well as build new ones with students, graduates and teachers of the TNUA department.

As a returning visitor to Taiwan, I felt it was important to attend the Amis Tribe harvest festival in Fengbin, Hualien County, to gain a deeper understanding of indigenous Taiwanese people. The Amis is the biggest indigenous tribe in Taiwan, and the harvest festival is one of the most important ceremonies of the tribe’s calendar year. They give thanks to ancestral spirits and celebrate their life and culture through dance, music, sports and unity.

Xavier with friends from the Amis Tribe.

As part of the celebrations, I helped choreograph a dance for some members of the tribe to perform for the chiefs and whole tribe. As they were only fluent in Mandarin Chinese, and I am only fluent in English, we had to communicate through hand gestures and facial expressions. By the end, I had become closer with the members of the group and understood more about their tribe, their culture and their personalities that transcends verbal communication. 

I spent some time with Taiwan’s top indigenous contemporary dance company, Bularaeyang Dance Company, located in Taitung in the South-east of Taiwan. There, I took part in indigenous dance and music lessons, observed rehearsals and taught a movement class for the company members inspired by traditional Pacific dance styles fused with contemporary dance. I also taught Samoan sāsā, explaining the history and meaning behind sāsā and its significance in Samoa. I also taught Pacific and Pacific-Contemporary dance workshops at the TNUA Department of Dance, which is renowned for creating some of the world’s elite contemporary dance artists.

Though this was my second time in Taiwan, there were still some misunderstandings when speaking Mandarin Chinese. For example, when I would get thirsty during class I’d tell my classmates I needed a drink of water. Unfortunately, I always got my tone for the Chinese word for water, Shuǐ, mixed up with the word for sleep, Shuì, so people always thought I was tired or wanted to sleep during class!

“In Taiwan, I connected with fellow Kiwis working for the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade and the Asia New Zealand Foundation. Building these relationships was important as I hope to undertake a career in diplomacy in the future.”

I got to make further connections with top arts and dance festival producers, directors and curators at the Asia Discover Asia Meeting (ADAM), a festival and forum in Taipei where attendees from Australasia and the world come together to look at the future of arts and dance in Asia. It is an important event in which to collaborate, network and discuss project ideas for the future.

During my time in Taiwan, I connected with fellow Kiwis working for the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade and the Asia New Zealand Foundation. Building these relationships was important to me as I hope to undertake a career in diplomacy in the future alongside my choreographic and artistic career. One contact was a fellow Samoan and family friend, and she provided me with advice about a career in international diplomacy. She also put me forward for a life-changing experience – the Indigenous Austronesian Forum, which I attended and represented New Zealand and Samoa.

The two-day Forum was hosted by the Taiwanese government, the Council of Indigenous Peoples of Taiwan and the Centre for Indigenous Studies and held at the National Donghwa University. Delegates came from indigenous tribes across Taiwan and the Pacific to take part in cultural exchanges, performances, indigenous community outreaches and to learn about issues in the region. A declaration was proposed at the forum, to create an agreement and document that highlighted issues of indigenous Austronesian people and how to improve and advocate for issues within governments and institutions. I am now collating this document and have been in discussions with the forum to return to Taiwan next year as a facilitator.

I thank the PMSA for supporting my aspirations and my research project. I am extremely grateful to have been given the opportunity.

Xavier (bottom left) with Bularaeyang Dance Company members after teaching their class

Xavier with friends, some of them exchange students from Australia and the US.

What's in it for me?