Experimental Theatre, National Theatre, Taipei
January 4, 2018
Taiwan’s B.DANCE, led by Tsai Po-cheng (蔡博丞), opened 2019 by working with Marcos Morau’s Barcelona-based La Veronal. It’s the sort of collaboration that should be applauded. The resulting Millennials saw seven dancers from the two ensembles in two works, one by each of the respective artistic directors, both to soundtracks by American composer Ryan Somerville.
In Millennials (it takes the same title as the evening), Morau creates a mysterious world: a black hole in indeterminate time and space that’s inhabited by figures in stylish black cassock-like garments (at one point the dancers do actually walk with hands held as if in prayer) and wide-brimmed straw hats by designer Lin Yu-ling (林俞伶). Those hats are constantly manipulated in inventive ways, sometimes appearing to be joined by an invisible thread, sometimes sent skidding across the floor and even thrown like frisbees; all done with unerring accuracy.
The choreography is hugely interesting too. Meaning is elusive but it’s a maze of textures, superbly structured and rich in detail. Whenever one dancer leaves the group, he or she quickly returns as if afraid to be alone. But they are even more afraid to make connections, moving without expression or acknowledging one another. In another sense, they are the ultimate collective, the whole falling apart if just one gets out of kilter.
There’s a hint of urban in the razor-sharp movement that’s loaded with clean isolations as limbs, head and other parts of the body appear almost physically separated. It was exquisitely and supremely accurately performed by the super cast.
The whole has quite a cinematic feel to it, hardly surprising given Morau’s interests in film and photography. Indeed, Millennials is a photographer’s dream, stunning image following stunning image.
A classy work in every sense.
From black to white (in fact, opposite in almost every way) and to Tsai Po-cheng’s Melting Neon. Having been impressed by most of Tsai’s previous creations, I know he can produce the goods. Perhaps expectations were too high. Melting Neon is not without good ideas but it is desperately disappointing.
Tsai winds back to an end-of-millennium party, a digital clock running the whole of the back wall counting down to the turn of the year. The audience return from the intermission to be greeted by Chang Sheng-ho (張聖和) bopping away to himself and imaginary music. The way he manages to not acknowledge there’s anyone else in the theatre is rather impressive.
But it does go on and it’s a long seven minutes or so before he is finally joined by the rest of the ensemble in similar all-white costumes that hint at the sort of thing Michael Jackson used to wear. Immediately, there are strong references to Morau’s Millennials as Tsai references the Spanish choreographer’s style but using dummy cigarettes instead of hats. The movement lacked the same clarity, however, and the miming of smoking was so poor (you couldn’t call it ‘stylised’) that I can only assume it was meant to be that way.
As an aside, apart from the fact the reference is a little too close for comfort, is smoking, pretend or not, really the image we should be projecting today? Choreographers do have responsibilities and, anyway, it certainly doesn’t reflect the millennials I know.
The dance is structurally not dissimilar to Morau’s Millennials again in that there’s a group from which someone occasionally breaks out briefly before returning, but here the dancers are together only in sense of being in the same place. Each is trapped in her or her dance trance, together in the same space physically, but isolated in their own world.
Occasionally a sort of unison comes out of all the individuality (I’m presuming it wasn’t supposed to be exactly alike so obvious were the differences) but with everyone mostly doing their not-very-interesting ‘own thing’, the mind soon searches increasingly elsewhere for stimulation. Mine found it in that digital clock and wondering what was going to happen when it hit 00:00:00. Not much, it turned out, other than it and the music stopping, and shortly afterwards the numbers ‘melting’, which is presumably where the title comes from. What does work well is Somerville’s drumbeat revision of Ravel’s Bolero, however.
Out of nowhere, a duet has promise. It’s full of the interesting lifts and supports Tsai is so good at but as the couple twisted around each other, it didn’t have the flow it felt it should have and was made to look awkward from start to finish.
It ends with the dancers inviting the audience to join them on stage, although not with much enthusiasm. Some did go down but as parties go, it was decidedly flat. It felt and looked like filler, an attempt to stretch the length of the piece. I stuck it for a few minutes but as things petered out, like some others, I gave up and left.
One to put aside and move on.