Metropolitan Hall, Taipei
April 4, 2019
Two days after the National Taiwan University of Sport, the Metropolitan Hall welcomed the Hwa Gang Dance Company (華岡舞團) of the city’s Chinese Culture University (中國文化大學) alongside guest dancers from the School of Art and Media at Beijing Normal University (北京師範大學).
This was an evening that celebrated student dance at the university in a series of large-scale works, all full of ensemble dance. In performances like this, especially as here where the choreography is by faculty, presenting whole classes and giving as much stage time as possible to everyone is paramount. While demonstrating the overall high standard of technique and proving students can dance as a group, the resulting dances tend to allow little room for individuals to shine, however. That was largely the case on this evening, one full of pleasant watching but also one that lacked many high points or anything just that little bit different.
That the most impressive choreography should come from Su An-li (蘇安莉) was no surprise. Her work is frequently the highlight of Hwa Gang performances. Her powerful Sanctuary is busy and full of bodies. Complex too, with lots of individual movement but that then comes together seamlessly in surprise unison moments. The opening in particular has a sense of tension, the large cast appearing as if somehow railing against something, or many different things; lost souls in search of the sanctuary of the title. The interest continues throughout, with a few quieter moments here and there. Some of the contrasting musical choices felt a little jarring but Su holds everything together nicely by repeatedly going back to specific motifs in the dance, including an intriguing one hand over the eyes, the other over the mouth; a reference to something seen, that shall not be spoken about, that they are all seeking refuge from, perhaps.
Earlier, the opening Playful Symphony (青春嬉遊曲) by Yen Tsui-chen (顏翠珍) got things off to a bright and light start. The largely contemporary ballet choreography had freedom and a sense of spring about it, both in movement and mood, the latter enhanced by the pastel coloured costumes: green, pink and orange for the ladies, a darker turquoise green-blue for the boys; and some multicoloured balls. It could have done with taking a breath, though, a quieter moment in among all the busy to-ing and fro-ing.
Generally more classical in nature was Hidden (藏) by Wei Pei-lin (魏沛霖). Now we really did get Spring and more, in the shape of parts of Vivaldi’s The Four Seasons. The dance never quite matched the freshness of the music, though. The title proved to be rather apt when huge lengths of fabric were stretched across the stage, then wafted over and in front of the dancers, largely obscuring them. The material could be seen as clouds but gently floating white does not exactly tie in with thunder and lightning heard in the score.
Chinese dance pieces are almost invariably faultless performed, and were here, most enjoyable being Inner Strength (蘊) by Cheng Wei-lin. A Letter (尺素) by Ting Yi (唐怡) edged the two Beijing Normal University pieces. It was beautifully performed in terms of movement, and did feature a central figure in blue, but struggled to communicate the intended sense of a lonely bird flying away and being unable to imagine when it might meet again. Clear (淨) by Wu Meng (武萌) revealed its colourful Tiebtan links, but was rather bland.
The evening concluded with Yen Tsui-chen (萝想曲) by Ho Yu-wen (何郁玟). An opening duet to the overture from Mikael Karlsson’s A Swan Lake (used by Alexander Ekman in his ballet of the same title) that sees one woman echo another central female in blue is particularly impressive. Karlsson quotes extensively from the Tchaikovsky score and it is impossible not to draw parallels with Odette and Odile; then, when the corps come, with swans. It was also refreshing to see individuals given a chance to take the spotlight.
While each section that followed was enjoyable, it was difficult to spot much of a thread that held them together. Having set up such a super scenario in that opening, that’s unfortunate. Even the central figure in that duet is never really fully to the fore again.
More comparisons were unavoidable with one section to parts of Michael Gordon’s Weather One, used by Cheng Tsung-lung to great effect in The Wall for Cloud Gate 2 (another musical choices that struggles to mesh). Ho’s sort of mechanical movement certainly follows the structure of the score but not its power.
Karlsson’s music does return at the end, although now with lots of glittery ‘rain’. Presumably that was what the programme note’s comment about “all the pain being washed out by the rain,” was all about. It certainly made for a colourful end to the show.