Promenade performance, Tamsui, Taiwan
October 19, 2019
Commissioned by Tamsui Historical Museum (淡水古蹟博物館) and part of the 1884 Battle of Tamsui Festival, Mission 1884 (任務1884) by choreographer and former Cloud Gate 2 dancer Wang Yeu-kwn (王宇光), and music consultant Hsieh Ming-yu (謝銘祐), took their audiences on a journey along the Tamsui riverside or up the hillside above, dropping in on several cultural and historic sites along the way.
Inspired by the Sino-French War and the battle that took place to the north of the town 135 years ago and in which largely volunteer Chinese soldiers routed the French, multiple influences included the conflict, people, the various spaces, and the landscape of the river. It was a chance to enjoy dance in unusual surroundings, sometimes against the dramatic views across to Guanyinshan and to explore quiet alleys and lanes. Despite the grey skies and on-off rain, both ‘sea’ and ‘mountain’ routes made for a very happy 70 minutes or so.
Both routes started at a small dock on the riverfront with a solo by Huang Yu-yuan (黃郁元) on a small wooden table on the foreshore, the river lapping gently just a few feet away. The breeze, leaden skies and rain intensified the dance with its hints of uncertainly as she looked down at the sand between balances, before finally stepping off.
My personal highlight came next on the ‘sea route’ (representing the French), a group dance set against a colourful graffitied wall. Shih Ya-ting (施亞廷) twisted and turned as he hung from a now exposed staircase in the old building, but it was the four women who really caught the eye. Emerging from ‘boxes’ in what looked like old shelving, they danced with graceful ease, twisting and turning, often in super unison.
Much of the choreography was on both routes, sometimes in revised form, different locations tending to give often giving a very different feel. This particular one lost impact on the ‘mountain route’ (Qing defenders) where it was seen outside the Little White House, the Custom Inspector General’s residence in the Qing Dynasty, the larger space and distance between dancers, the distance between dancers and audience, and the openness of the space all playing a part, although the views across the river were fabulous.
Back on the sea route, next stop was the cloistered arcade at the Chi Po-lin Museum (齊柏林空間), a gallery where aerial photographs taken by the documentary filmmaker are exhibited and stored.
That was followed on the ‘sea route’ by a stop-off at the former Land Office, where a short solo by Wang Chen-lun (王鎮倫) invited us into the now empty building. Inside, Lin Hui-chu (林彙筑) and Fang I-sung (方逸松) delivered a delicious duet that had a hint of romance and goodbyes about it. It did indeed end with the two walking off in different directions. Full of balances, lifts and supports, it was danced gracefully, surely and with gorgeous smoothness. Shadows cast by the lights on the back wall added and extra layer. The combination of beautiful art and the vast, empty, run-down space worked perfectly.
Up on the mountain route, the same couple danced the same duet (there was a fair bit of rushing around on scooters) in the beautifully restored 1934 Japanese-style former residence of Tamsui Township Head Tada Eikichi. In the pristine space and now tightly hemmed in by its wall, the dance had a somewhat different feel.
Both routes featured one more duet. Down by the river, an overhanging tree on a fishing deck provided some welcome shelter from the rain, and a dance that evoked the noise and dramatic action of battle. Up in the lanes and on a section of Chenli Street that overhanging trees turn into a green tunnel, Ning Chi (甯 琪) and Shih Ya-ting (施亞廷) made good use of the red brick wall. Most striking however was the arrival of one of them, walking through a gate out of a bright light like someone arriving from another world.
It’s quite hard to pinpoint why, but as we walked between and then stood and watched the dances, there was a real sense of being at one with the dance and of a shared experience that you often do not get in the theatre.
In a smart piece of timing, both audiences came together right on cue to be walked across a bridge for the finale on the lawn outside the former 19th-century warehouses of Tamsui Customs Wharf, now gallery spaces. A solo by Hsu Chih-hen (許誌恒) drew the other dancers through the audience. The ensemble dance that followed hinted at the battle after the French soldiers had landed but struggled for impact a little, largely because of distance and the unconfined space. Everything was brought to a lovely conclusion, however as members of the audience were invited to join the cast in a dance celebration.