CKS Memorial Hall MRT Station Exit 5 & National Concert Hall Terrace, Taipei
March 30 & April 5, 2019
When a dance work that grabbed you on a first viewing does so a second time around, it’s always a good sign. So, it was with Free Steps – NiNi (自由步—一盞燈的景身) by Su Wei-chia (蘇威嘉), an outdoor presentation seen in several locations around Taipei’s National Theater and Concert Hall as part of this year’s Taipei International Festival of the Arts.
Free Steps has since seen several incarnations following its birth as a short small group work made during the Artscross exchange programme in London in summer 2013, perhaps most notably as a collection of solos for Chen Wu-kang (陳武康) and Chou Shu-yi (周書毅) in 2017. Now in the sixth year of his ten-year choreography project, Su has moved outdoors with a 40-minute solo for Fang Yu-ting (方妤婷) that shifts between locations.
The dance takes place on a raised platform under lighting designer Liu Chia-ming’s (劉家明) simple, but very effective single street lamp. As Fang moves, the light shines down, her shifting body creating shadows and glare depending on the angle at any moment.
To Taiwan-based French sound designer Yannick Dauby’s soundscape, Fang twists and turns, sometimes down low, sometimes reaching up to that single light. Shoulders isolate. Her body is frequently angular, hands sometimes remain fixed to her hips as she moves. Her feet never leave the ground, one fourth position being replaced by another as she rotates.
That the light is the impulse is clear. There is a sense that she is bathing in it, although this is a bath that’s not always comfortable. Quieter sections intersperse with the busier ones creating those perfect moments of contrast that almost all dance needs, moments when the light seems to sooth.
All the time, she seems very much in her own world. For all her non-stop moving, she is an oasis of calm, oblivious to the busy city surroundings. In that sense, she is indeed free, despite being very much invisibly bound by that light, and physically so by her perch.
Surprise is generally on the cards with any work like this that moves around different venues. Each particular location adds its own unique flavour to the choreography, through lighting, weather, background and more.
Outside CKS Memorial Hall MRT Station, on the corner of Aiguo and Roosevelt Roads, the busy traffic and the ever-changing colours of the traffic signals created a lovely contrast. Even passing vehicles sometimes stopped for a moment. I hope the fast-food delivery guy wasn’t on his way somewhere!
Even where you stood for a given show made a difference, although even Su didn’t know where might be the best spot. For the performance on the terrace where the National Concert Hall fronts Xinyi Road, I suggested that the building itself might make the best backdrop. “I really have no idea,” he replied honestly.
Outside the National Concert Hall, as darkness fell, the backdrop gave an unexpected surprise. As people passed by, walking in front of the building’s floodlights, they created unintentional shadows on its front wall, adding a multimedia effect to the performance. Some choreographers spend a fortune trying to create that very same effect. Here it was all for free.
In-theatre performances are important, but so often it’s shows like Free Steps – NiNi, shows in unusual, often outdoor, settings that really make festivals feel like festivals rather than just any other performance season. So it was here. I hope the TIFA programmers take note.
A shorter version of Free Steps NiNi will be performed in the Crown Hall at Weiwuying National Kaohsiung Center for the Arts on April 13 & 14.