Fifty Years of Dance: Father Michelini


2017 / March

Cathy Teng /photos courtesy of Jimmy Lin /tr. by Scott Williams

Father Gian Carlo Michelini came to Taiwan from Italy in 1964, and founded the Lan Yang Dancers in 1966. In 1974 he took his dancers on an international tour, on which they became the first performing arts group ever to perform for the Pope in the Vatican. He was also an important contributor to the founding of the Yi­lan International Children’s Folklore and Folkgame Festival, and has helped bring the world to Taiwan by inviting numerous international performing arts companies to perform here.


“Good morning, Father!” a group of children choruses, running over to Father Michelini. He greets the students of Sheng­yin Kindergarten with pats on their heads and gentle pinches of their soft cheeks. White-haired, beer-bellied and raspy-voiced, Fr. Michelini still speaks Mandarin with a heavy accent in spite of his more than 50 years in Taiwan.

For love

“Two months after I arrived in Taiwan, I realized that I wanted to promote culture and the arts. I wanted to do something that Taiwan needed and that other people weren’t doing,” recalls Michelini.

A child of beautiful, Renaissance-flavored Bologna, Michelini excelled at music. The arts were fundamental to his life, though he also loved psychology and football. On arriving in Taiwan, he noted that Taiwanese children had no respite from their schoolwork and no energy for extracurricular activities. “That was no kind of life,” says Fr. Michelini.

Instead of undertaking the service work typical for a member of the Camillian order, Michelini founded the Luo­dong Youth Catholic Recreation Center (now the Lan Yang Youth Catholic Center) and the Lan Yang Dancers in 1966. He uses these institutions to offer a variety of classes in dance, Chinese traditional music, taekwondo, the arts, and music, as well as to arrange basketball, football, and volleyball tournaments.

The children studying dance with the Lan Yang Dancers performed exceptionally well right from the group’s inception. Just two years after its founding, the Lan Yang Dancers not only represented Yi­lan at the Taiwan Provincial Dance Competition, but won it.

Going international

From the beginning, Michelini was determined to take the troupe abroad as a means of introducing Taiwan to the world. “I wanted to do something that would have an impact,” he recalls.

When the ROC lost its seat in the United Nations and many of its formal diplomatic partners in the 1970s, Michelini reckoned that Taiwan could win new friends by introducing its culture to the rest of the world. He began seeking financial support from the government for performances abroad, but had no luck until 1974.

The Lan Yang Dancers made their international debut in Italy with a performance in the northern Italian city of Vicenza. Unfortunately, with no advertising to announce the show, only 32 people turned up at the 5,000-seat venue. They nonetheless received high marks for their performance, and invitations to perform poured in as word of their prowess spread.

Lan Yang’s greatest honor on this first tour was an invitation to perform for Pope Paul VI, which made them the first performing arts company to perform for a Pope in the Vatican. The troupe’s many tours in the years since have been filled with both thrills and mishaps. On one South American tour their agent abandoned them, forcing them to rearrange everything on the fly. On another occasion they found themselves without visas or permission to perform as a show date loomed. But Michelini says: “I don’t fear hardship. This is what I want to do, and I want to keep on doing it.” It is Michelini’s determination that keeps the Lan Yang Dancers traveling and introducing Taiwan’s beauty to the world. The company has performed on countless stages in Taiwan and around the world over the last 50 years, delivering performances that have not only shown the world a bit of Taiwanese culture, but also served as an extraordinary kind of cultural diplomacy. 

Bringing the world to Taiwan

Michelini has used culture and the arts to make friends around the world, employing every technique, network and channel he could to raise his troupe’s international profile and find it opportunities to perform abroad. The Lan Yang Dancers’ outstanding international performances even prompted the International Council of Organizations of Folklore Festivals (CIOFF), a group affiliated with UNESCO, to invite Michelini to attend its annual conference as an observer. In fact, the hard work and support of Michelini and others helped pave the way for Taiwan to become a formal member of CIOFF in 1994. Michelini has continued to promote exchanges and the development of Taiwan’s folk arts during his tenure as secretary-general of CIOFF Chinese Taipei.

In 1996, the Yi­lan County Government incorporated Michelini’s proposal for a children’s arts and games festival into its celebration of the 200th anniversary of the arrival in Yi­lan of a party of Han Chinese pioneers, by hosting the first Yi­lan International Children’s Folklore and Folkgame Festival. Michelini’s long experience with international arts festivals also came in handy, enabling him to invite outstanding troupes from around the world to perform. These groups not only exposed Taiwanese audiences to international-caliber performances, but also provided local troupes with the opportunity for international exchanges. The festival itself was an unprecedented success, and has since become one of Taiwan’s premier celebrations of international arts, one that nearly everyone in Taiwan has attended at least once. When you examine Michelini’s success in creating such “impactful events,” you can’t help but admire his dedication and vision.

Michelini took advantage of the 1991 breakup of the Soviet Union to explore Eastern Europe in search of ballet dancers. He came back with the Vaganova Ballet Academy’s training system and in 2005 established the Lan Yang Ballet, a troupe that marries the strengths of Western dance with Taiwanese cultural content.

In fact, the Lan Yang Dancers have been incorporating Taiwanese elements into their work for years with pieces and programs such as 1999’s Princess Ka­va­lan, a retelling in dance of the myth of Gui­shan Island and the Lan­yang Plain, and ­Qianggu, a dance brimming with imagery from Yilan.

Building a future

The Lan Yang Youth Catholic Center consists of two connected concrete buildings housing the center, the dance companies, and the kindergarten on roughly six hectares along Luo­dong’s Bei­cheng Road. The site also includes open fields. “I like Nature and dislike concrete,” explains Michelini, who has created a “family garden” by planting trees from all over the world. The land is also home to a variety of animals, including strutting peacocks, leaping squirrels, flocks of chickens and ducks, croaking frogs and migratory birds that visit every year. “I once had a nocturnal sika deer inspect the evening dance classes with me,” jokes Michelini.

Asked whether he is a romantic, Michelini demurs, saying that’s not the sort of thing one can judge for oneself. But as we walk through the gardens, he quietly urges the two peacocks leading us around the garden to fan their tail feathers for us to admire.

It’s a revealing moment that hints at a whimsical if not necessarily romantic side of Michelini’s character.

Having already founded a professional dance company that enables local dancers to preserve the joyful dances of their hometowns, in 2014 Fr. Michelini ­resolved to move on to the next stage of Lan Yang’s cultural blueprint by establishing an international children’s art village in Yi­lan. The planned arts village will include a professional performance space, multi­purpose classrooms, and living spaces, and will draw on Lan Yang’s deep experience with arts exchanges. Michelini aims to make the venue one of Taiwan’s key dance centers by enabling international artists to remain here for longer periods of time.

Father Michelini has always felt that Taiwan needs to look outward and make friends with the world. With that in mind, he says: “Lan Yang has a clear orientation, one that only it can follow. We still have much more to give to Taiwan, and will continue to march ahead so long as we receive support.” Michelini is still working to realize his dreams in Taiwan, and hopes that the public will continue to endorse and support his endeavors.

Relevant articles

Recent Articles

繁體 日本語

結愛蘭陽 舞躍國際


文‧鄧慧純 圖‧林格立 翻譯‧Scott Williams





























世界へ羽ばたく「蘭陽舞踊団」 ——ミケリーニ神父

文・鄧慧純 写真・林格立 翻訳・松本 幸子

























X 使用【台灣光華雜誌】APP!