Experimental Theater at the National Theater, Taipei
April 22, 2017
Shared programmes and international collaborations are becoming an increasing common, and welcome, occurrence in Taipei, this latest one bringing together the city’s Body EDT (Body Expression Dance Theatre, 體相舞蹈劇場) with Verb Ballets, who describe themselves as a contemporary ballet company, from Cleveland, Ohio, and who were making their first international excursion. As always it made for interesting comparisons.
The evening opened with three works by Verb Ballets. The eight dancers were all pleasing on the eye and danced with confidence and conviction. The partnering was particularly impressive, any number of lifts, sometimes tricky, being completed with smoothly and with ease.
However, while all three works were neatly structured and showed the dancers off well, they largely felt rather unadventurous. Like ‘easy listening’ music, all were pleasant but none excited or left a huge mark in the memory. Maybe that says something about the conservative nature of dance in America generally compared to the rest of the world, maybe it just proves that English is not a single language and ‘contemporary’ has different meanings in different places. Probably both.
Appropriated Memories is a dance for four couples by Anthony Krutzkamp to music by Sophie Hutchings, Ólafur Arnalds, who seems to be everywhere these days, and Jean-Michel Blais; which it has to be said has been very neatly put together. The movement, classical ballet with a dash of American modern dance, flowed smoothly throughout, the various partnerships all contain feeling and tenderness, with maybe just a suggestion of loss, especially in the overhead lifts from one of the pairs. All that would certainly tie in with the title (there was no programme note). I just wish Krutzkamp hadn’t felt the need to have the dancers roll on the floor. It’s the sort of thing students do to try and emphasise their work is contemporary as well as classical, but in fact almost always looks so awkward and clumsy in pointe shoes.
Ne me quitte pas by Daniel Precup is performed to the single song of the same title by the incomparable Jacques Brel, written after he left his mistress, Suzanne ‘Zizou’ Gabriello. The title translates literally as ‘Do not leave me’, but the song is better known in English as ‘If you go away’. Precup’s choreography never quite matches Brel’s passionate delivery, but in much more contemporary dance that is full of languid movement, dancers Kate Webb and Michael Hinton create a feeling that a relationship is indeed over, or at least soon will be, she quite frequently pulling away from him. It ends with her apparently dying in his arms. Whether metaphorically or in reality is for us to decide. Short, yes, but also the best of the evening.
The Arrival of Departure by Lee Ming-cheng (李名正), artistic director of Body EDT, may have been made during a three-month residency in Cleveland last year, but looks and feels very much like modern dance (rather than ‘contemporary dance’; we’re back to semantics again but, yes, in my book there is a difference) that is decidedly older.
Apparently, the work draws on ‘Mr Rabbit’, a recurring fictional character in Lee’s choreography, which is sort of a symbol of the primal nature of humankind, although that was lost on me. What is certain is that the work generally has the dancers shift from a lot of floor-based work to being more upright. A repeated motif has the women stand on the back of a man while he’s on all fours. Unfortunately, getting up there is a lot easier than getting down, which frequently looked awkward.
Everything is backed by projections that shift between something that resembles flames and a human figure at times. Although they add little, more than once I found myself musing on them rather than the dance going on in front, which in itself speaks volumes about the latter. Low marks too for the awful all-red costumes, especially the half-skirts worn by the men, which did nothing for the dancers. Most disappointing.
There is more, and better, use of projections in Lee’s Initial-space starting (空間起點) for his own company. This time the video mostly features a repeated rectangular shape coming towards or away from the stage, and that when performed directly in front of by the dancers suggests they are being whisked through some time-travelling vortex. For once, the digital artwork feels totally integral to the dance, which itself is also quite angular. As good as the projections are, they do get a bit overwhelming, though (what’s new?). I can’t help feeling a break from them in the middle of the work would have helped.
Finally, how nice it was to see a programme of several works in the Experimental Theatre. So many choreographers these days seem to think they must present a single 60 or 70-minute piece, then struggle to sustain the interest. Here, each dance said what it needed to concisely and effectively, not one overstaying its welcome.