Lais Creative Dance Theater at the Experimental Theater at the National Theater, Taipei
March 26, 2016
Sounds, Body, Memories (發聲) by Lais Creative Dance Theater (賴翠霜舞創劇場) is Germany-based Lai Tsui-shuang’s (賴翠霜) latest work around the subject of memory, and follows her collaboration with Michael Hess last autumn on Blackout (記憶出軌), which considered aging and memory loss.
Lai asks what happens if we lose the sounds in our memories. Do we then lose attachment and feelings too?
It has to be said that Sounds, Body, Memories does not get off to the best of starts. The audience is greeted by four bodies gently moving under a thin sheet of thin-looking plastic to the sound of water and something akin to whales calling that is all very new age, except that it’s not new anymore. Given the occasional baby’s cry also heard, and the way the four eventual emerge, presumably it’s a reference to children in the womb. Given it extends into the start of the performance ‘proper’, some early arrivals sat through this for nigh on 30 minutes. It’s unchanging, totally mindnumbing and actually doesn’t connect obviously anyway to what follows. The staging here looks cheap too.
That it gets off to such a weak opening is a shame, because once we get past the emergence (should that be birth?) of the four dancers and the turning of that plastic sheet into what looks for all the world like a stormy sea that embraces a fifth performer, Sounds, Body, Memories has much to commend it.
The theme is spelled out in spoken text that asks “Where are the keys…The car…Where is home…Childhood…Do we still remember if we hope to forget?” and more. Somewhat oddly it is totally in English.
Given she’s an alumni of the Folkwang School and has worked extensively in Germany, much of what follows has a tanztheater edge. Although Lai largely maintains a clear link with the subject matter, you never quite know what is coming next. There’s lots of gesture throughout. There’s much walking, turning and reaching out, not with a blank face and empty mind, but more the sort that indicates someone can’t comprehend where they are, where something is, or even what the something is they have lost. It is very effective.
In among the theatre there are some notable out and out dance scenes including an intense, athletic duet with some great partner work about half-way through. A later duet is even better. To a mix of recorded sound and live playing, a woman is supported and manoeuvred by a man using his shoulders, neck and back. The clever part is that he remains on the floor throughout. She reaches out time and again. There’s a sense of searching for freedom, for that memory, while remaining trapped and unable to escape her silent jail.
It’s performed to a soundscape with music, noise, call it what you will, made in any variety of ways. There’s percussion from the performers shoes, electronica, live brass and recorded sounds. Hand-held megaphones are used to buffet a woman, the sound emanating from them acting like the wind.
Some whizzy-computer technology is used to pick up and translate sounds made by the movement of the dancers’ bodies, although it actually doesn’t really add anything much that recorded sound couldn’t have done. And reliance on hi-tech can cause problems, as here when it not working led to a halt being called after a few minutes and a 30-minute delay (and some unfortunate herding of the audience out of the theatre, back in and back out again). It was also rather over-egged in the programme. Making out Sounds, Body, Memories is some sort of new “crossover work, combining body language with the sound stage” is taking it a bit far.
It’s ends almost as unfortunately as it starts. There’s an energetic and rather upbeat ensemble dance that, while well-choreographed and performed, and referencing some of what has gone before, certainly doesn’t gel in terms of mood or feeling. It comes to a natural end, only to be followed by a musical coda (in darkness) that adds nothing.
I left with mixed feelings. When it’s good, and it often is, Sounds, Body, Memories is very engaging indeed, but when it’s not, it’s seriously not. At one point when my mind was wandering, I espied at least four people in the audience fast asleep. But, apart from that opening, it shouldn’t have that effect. Somewhere in here is a very good piece indeed, but pruning and maybe another year of growth and some new shoots, is definitely required. And if you’re going hi-tech, do make sure it works!