Wenshan Theater, Taipei
December 31, 2016
The four Chang brothers of Chang Dance Theater (長弓舞蹈劇場), three Taipei National University of the Arts alumni and one current student, have apparently built something of reputation since the company’s founding in 2011. Given that, String (弦) came as a big disappointment, this New Year’s Eve performance turning out to be a long 55 minutes.
Choreographed by eldest brother Chang Chien-hao (張堅豪), and danced by Chang Chien-kuei (張堅貴), and two women, Cheng I-han (鄭伊涵) and Li Yan-hsui (李燕琇), looks like it should be about relationships, or more precisely, Chang’s relationships with the two women; relationships that are probably remembered rather than present or imagined, although that’s not exactly clear in the dance, which also largely lacks atmosphere or mood.
String does get off to a promising start, one of the women tentatively entering the stage as if appearing in the memory. An early section that sees Chang switch female partners in the blink of an eyelid is also rather cleverly done. Towards the end there’s also an excellent solo for Cheng that suggests loss and yearning. What happens in between is a lot of partner work that features much supporting and manoeuvring of the women by Chang. There’s a neat short dance that sees one of the women’s heads in permanent contact with Chang’s shoulder, but the rest of it starts to feel like an exploration of ‘how many ways can I support you’.
Solo work seems to involve repeated non-meaningful shoulder rolling, torso twisting and gesture that falls into that no man’s land between aesthetically pleasing and quirkily interesting and finishes up being neither. When all three dancers are on stage we are treated to a lot of running around and exchanging places.
Matters are not helped by the fact that the dance seems to bear almost no connection to the music, which apart from David Lang’s Just (where the opportunity to use the words was sadly passed up) is also instantly forgettable. And then there are the long silences between tracks. Dancing to silence is fraught with danger at the best of times, but when the choreography is weak, there is nothing left to grab hold of and keep the interest going.
Very little effort appears to have been made with lighting, although that seen at Wenshan was very different from that on video on-line, which immediately has more impact, atmosphere and meaning.
One hopes that String is merely a blip, but it is one to put in the ‘miss’ column, I’m afraid.