National Experimental Theatre, Taipei
March 18, 2017
One by one the dancers walk on. Making those already there shift up for them, they sit against the back wall, faces empty. There are twelve dancers, and a gap between each entering, so this takes quite a while. After about five or six, the idea has run its course. Well, it’s one way to fill the time, I mused to myself.
Iván Pérez describes BECOMING, premiered in summer 2017 in Italy and here redeveloped for a larger cast and presented as a collaboration with Dance Forum Taipei (舞蹈空間), as the outcome of his ongoing examination of “fluid identity,” whatever that might mean. Looking back on the piece from its conclusion, it’s possible to see the cast as being stuck in some sort of timeless limbo, a group on a journey or stuck in some sort of no-mans-land between leaving and arrival. It didn’t speak that at the time, though. It’s not often that a work doesn’t leave much impact one way or the other, but that was the case here, the lack of much physical or emotional intensity not helping any.
The dance turns out to be a sort of follow my leader exercise initiated by the person at each end of the chain. The performers remain in physical contact throughout: shoulder to shoulder, holding hands, touching palms, head against the back of the person in front and so on. The blank expressions remain almost throughout.
Like that opening, the rest of BECOMING is initially interesting, but once you’ve worked it out, the idea pales quickly. After around twenty minutes I reckoned it probably wasn’t going anywhere although, as it turned out, that’s not quite true. It was just going to take a while.
Pérez and the cast do produce some pleasant pictures. At one point the dancers all come to kneel and slowly crawl forward looking for all the world like a giant centipede (not what it was supposed to be, I’m sure). While slow, it was neither hypnotic nor mesmerising, though; not that either is an indication of good dance by itself anyway. Time and again, I found my attention wandering over to the electronics table stage right where Rutger Zuydervelt of Machinefabriek was producing an interesting if strange electronic soundscape from a tangle of various gizmos and a mixer that at times hinted at static electricity, a machine gun, and much more. The impression is that this and moments in the dance itself were at least partly improvised around fixed staging points.
While the dancers may have all be doing the same thing, or at least the same thing in canon, I found myself noticing small differences: the one who steps back on the left foot when everyone else uses the right, those who can make their arms snake sinuously and those who can’t so well and are more angular, and for some reason, the one tattooed arm. Individuals still in the amorphous mass.
Things do actually speed up marginally, although almost imperceptibly slowly. Then, a surprise! Out of nowhere, and from a sort of sleepy harmony, BECOMING becomes something else as it shifts to ungainly. A thunder-like crash proves the signal for the cast (now standing and holding hands in a circle) to fall and stumble, pulling each other around, as if they’ve met a sudden storm. Then we had some writhing on the floor. Still all connected, towards the end a few climb unsteadily, presumably deliberately so although it’s unclear, on the thighs and shoulders of others.
Only at the end, when peace returns, and when they finally break apart, do one or two dancers show any sign of acknowledgement of the others. It did feel like an arrival, but also like a deathly slow and very long journey to get there. Sometimes it’s only by looking back from such travels that truths are revealed.