Century Contemporary Dance Company, Ha Youngmi and Off-Nibroll
at the Shuiyuan Theater, Taipei
December 30, 2016
Three works, three choreographers, three countries. Taiwan doesn’t get to see as much dance from around East Asia as one might expect, so this Dance in Asia (驅動城市) evening put together by Yao Shu-fen (姚淑芬) and her Century Contemporary Dance Company (世紀當代舞團) was very welcome indeed; and what a fascinating evening it proved to be.
Opening the evening, The World has Shrunk, and Only a Certain Fact Remains was made for the 11-year-old Japanese troupe off-Nibroll by choreographer, director, playwright and dancer Mikuni Yanaihara (矢內原美邦), and visual director Keisuke Takahashi (高橋啓祐).
The work was inspired by Inujima, an island on Japan’s Inland Sea that has experienced repeated cycles of prosperity and decline. Once home to 5,000 people and a flourishing smelting industry, today it has just 40 residents. As the creators point out, though, in the remnants of the past, and from the memories of the past, lay sparks that spring into life, bringing with them a new beginning.
And that’s certainly the sense that you get right from the opening moments that see two dancers rushing here and there in their own square of light, each madly busy, but each penned into their own world. There’s an occasional scream as if yelling, ‘Stop! I want to get off!’ But, of course, they can’t.
Backing the dance are excellent projections by Takahashi that always compliment the live action, never overpowering it. Again and again, watery images flood the screen like a tsunami sweeping through one’s life, drowning everything in its path. Later images see birds and leaves scattering, a metaphor perhaps for life being cleared out and starting afresh.
My favourite piece of the evening was in one way the simplest: just one woman, one chair and her memories, but what depth A Torn Window created and performed by South Korean Ha Youngmi (河永美) has.
Silence is sometimes imposed by society. There are things about which people generally close their ears to and do not wish to hear. Yet the pain of the individuals concerned remains; pain that is all too often intensely personal. Although not clear from the work as danced in Taipei, I understand the starting point for the work was military sexual slavery in wartime.
Sitting on the chair, microphone in hand, Ha’s character wants to speak but the words will not come. She cannot verbalise the suffering she endured then and inwardly since. Later, that chair appears like a refuge, a place a safety as she hides under it. Some of the movement also suggests washing herself, as if trying to cleanse herself of whatever terrible memories still reside in her body. A moment of dance comes as a relief, but it seems to be only transitory as her inner pain remains.
Beautiful in its way, but intensely powerful, and a dramatic observation of psychological suffering.
Rounding things off, Timeless (吉光片語) by Yao Shu-fen refers to the non-stop pace of the modern world, as a result of which lives tend to be full of unfinished things that simply pile up, that can overwhelm memory and near drown out personal voices.
Timeless takes place amid Takahashi’s striking installation of 442 miniature houses, neatly set out in 26 rows, all perfectly spaced. At the back are projections, often full of the detritus of everyday life being blown away as if in a typhoon: a fridge, toilet, musical instrument, chest of drawers, spoon and much, much more.
Each dancer digs up relics of memories and transforms them into movement. They initially appear to work separately, each maybe reflecting their own experience, although as the work progresses, one increasingly sees brief connections. Among the soundscape is a train, a fairground, and frighteningly, a siren. A male solo scatters the houses; the order has gone, although one of the women later tries to put everything back as it was, she can only succeed to a point. She cannot keep up with the pace of change.
Yet another deeply thoughtful piece to round off what was a deeply thoughtful evening.