Wellspring Theater, Taipei
April 9, 2016
Although there has never been any doubt about the quality of the dancers, and while there have been some good moments, some programmes from Dance Forum Taipei (舞蹈空間) have missed the mark in recent years. There were no such problems with Moving with Shimazaki (徹舞流), a trio of very different works by Japanese choreographer Toru Shimazaki (島崎 徹), full of interesting choreography and that really showed the dancers off to the full.
Grace is about as appropriate a title as you can get, because the piece is jammed full of it. For its creation, Shimazaki was influenced by origami and especially bonsai and its potted plants, exquisite yet artificially created. Indeed, it’s not a huge leap to see the opening and closing image created by two dancers as a bonsai tree.
The choreography is essentially a series of duets, although sometimes with two on stage at the same time. It’s full of close partnering with plenty of twists and turns, and inventive supports using all parts of the body: shoulders, back, thighs, back of neck, you name it, it was used. Particularly impressive was how smoothly the couples came out of difficult looking positions, never losing the rhythm. Strength and control was something to behold.
Grace is a bit one-paced, but then again, so is the score, a mix of piano and digital sounds by Ryuichi Sakamoto (坂本 龍一), who won an Oscar for the music for The Last Emperor; and German composer Alva Noto. Huang Shen-quan’s (黃申全) lighting – fabulous in all three pieces – helps create an other-worldly feel. Atelier Yoshino’s largely white and silver costumes are picture, although I’m not so sure about the silver mesh masks that initially covered faces and heads, that presumably are an attempt to disguise the human form.
The Game, a brand new trio for three men, brings a complete change of mood and strength of a very different sort. The lighting suggests a dark place, lit only by the light coming in through skylights. The dance includes lots of suggestions of fighting, although whether intended to be real or fierce play-fighting (what I thought it hinted at) is unclear. Still, the trio tumble over and hurl themselves and each other around with considerable force. Again, the music is a great fit, this time progressive rock from the Morgaua Quartet.
After the men it was the turn of the women in Zero Body. It was inspired by lyrics in a song composed by Zoë Keating from the soundtrack of an animated film by Hayao Miyazaki (宮崎 駿), Shimazaki being fascinated by the idea of the body becoming zero
It opens with all nine women, all dressed in black, standing in half-light formation looking downstage right. Different colour palette and nine rather than seventeen dancers, but comparisons with Balanchine’s Serenade were hard to avoid. Zero Body quickly takes a different path, though.
What follows is 30-minutes of near non-stop, whole-ensemble dance. Shimazaki’s choreography captures well the changing rhythms in the score. While occasionally jagged, most of the movement has a powerful sweeping quality to it as the cast skate and slide across the space. One section is particularly fast, whirling arms leaving just a blur of movement in the memory. Another is almost robotic (is this what is meant by ‘zero body’?), the whole cast appearing driven by some outside force. When it stops suddenly, so do they, arms stretched heavenwards, the one moment the dance pauses for breath.
Groupings and duets start to appear out of the ensemble and constantly change. When the dancers dance together, they are absolutely together. Shimazaki certainly knows how to handle a group. Structurally, it’s all quite complex.
The one quibble is that while the geometry or architecture of Zero Body keeps changing in interesting ways, it is almost always all nine women on stage, with always some unison gong on. It looks and feels very much like one of those high school graduation pieces where the choreographer feels under some obligation to have everyone on stage pretty much the whole time. True, there are moments later when dancers leave the stage, but they are all too brief. As good as the performance was, and as well as Shimazaki has put the piece together, I started to long for a little more variation: a decent solo, duet or smaller group section, for something, anything different.
Still, an enjoyable threesome, and how great to see Dance Forum back on form and dancing to their full.