Everyone so often someone brings out one of those coffee table books of photographs of beautiful, startling lit, dancing bodies, for some reason usually male, and usually pictured against a black background, the light picking out every muscle and sinew. As books, they’re not for me, but imagine those pictures coming to life in front of your eyes and to gorgeous music because that is precisely what you get with the latest incarnation of Su Wei-chia’s (蘇威嘉) Free Steps (自由步-身體的眾生相) series.
Free Steps was born at the The Place in London back in 2013 as part of ArtsCross, an exchange project with dancers and choreographers from Taiwan, China and the UK. It has come a long way, the dance in its various productions sometimes indeed feeling ‘free’, but at other times being quite bound (including as I recall, most of the initial version).
This latest imagining consists of six roughly ten-minute solos by Chou Shu-yi (周書毅) and Chen Wu-kang (陳武康), like Su, all members of noted dance company, Horse. Each expresses the body, feeling and mood in a different way; each also a new exploration of rhythms. In the first, Chou’s slow-motion body constantly circles and twists in a single pool of light. The surrounding blackness only emphasises the sense of it all happening in some void or vacuum. Chen’s first solo is more accented as it shifts across the stage. It’s always fascinating how we as viewers seek meaning in what we see; I couldn’t help feeling there was a sense of his body remembering steps from the past.
Next is a more expansive dance from Chou. His body is pushed and pulled, the wider circling of the arms reflecting the sound of waves breaking on a shore heard in Yannick Dauby’s score, which despite the sunshine suggested by those waves also comes with ominous overtones. Chen’s second is markedly different, full of joint isolations and sharper movement.
Chou’s final dance is all animalistic, my mind associating what I was seeing was a barren, hot, landscape. The closing solo sees Chen firmly rooted to the spot, stripped bare save for a jock-strap. Maybe it was the sound of a cold wind whistling across some barren, frozen landscape that did it, but it brought associations to me of a tree denuded of its foliage (for which I suppose you could read clothes), but still starkly beautiful.
I can’t help wishing that maybe that Su could have found a way of bringing his two wonderful dancers together at the conclusion, but then maybe that would have been an intrusion because, as it stands, this latest Free Steps is certainly a remarkable exhibition of the solo male body in motion. Throughout, both Chou and Chen exude a sense of being totally in the moment and at one with the dance. It’s also a great example how choreography, music and design should come together as a single whole, and how it is so much more effective when it does so. Dauby’s music and Liu Chia-ming’s (劉家明) lighting are so important to the work.