Taipei National University of the Arts Swimming Pool
November 9, 2019
Many performances claim to bring together dance and new media. Usually, either the technology takes over completely, or it is so lacklustre that you wonder why they bothered and what they spent all the money on. Rarely do they truly come together in a real intertwining of the arts. But they certainly did at the Kuandu Light Art Festival 2019 (關渡光藝術節) intsallation, Moving Me Badly (壞運動), presented by the Department of New Media Art of Taipei University of the Arts (國立臺北藝術大學) with dancers from the university’s College of Dance. Once the main part of the evening got going, the show in and around the partly drained campus swimming pool was enigmatic, mysterious, and full of lighting wizardry.
That said, the opening section on the terrace outside the pool (which was different at each performance) disappointed hugely. The recorded electronic music and a few computer-programmed flashing lights looked and sounded like they could have come from a disco forty years ago. Luckily, it was a lovely clear evening. The views across towards Beitou and the mountains beyond were stunning.
But then things picked up dramatically. Approaching the pool door, the attention was captured immediately. Inside, in blue half-light, figures stood motionless in the pool’s now calf-depth water, given that milky blue-white hue sometimes seen in local hot springs. It was very reminiscent of Antony Gormley’s Another Place, his installation of 100 statues on the beach of Crosby near Liverpool, seen at night.
Sometimes not having a programme is a good thing. Peering into this misty ‘other world’, the mind wondered about what they were, who they were and what it was all supposed to mean. Answers remained stubbornly elusive but who cared, because the visual impact was startling enough.
Things got stranger and even better when the figures in the pool slowly started moving (choreography by Yang Nai-hsuan, 楊乃璇). A ghostly mist wafted above as lasers and projections played softly off the sides of the pool or cut through the space like shafts of lightening, bouncing of the water, slicing the scene into multiple parts. Then, a stranger intruding on this already strange world: a figure in a spacesuit wandering among the throng like a being from another planet.
Later, the audience would be guided into the pool’s changing rooms. Approaching the dark entrance, marked by a couple of red laser beams, it felt a bit like Theseus entering the labyrinth. What secrets would it hold? There was no Minotaur, but choreographer Lin Ya-lan (林雅嵐) had plenty of surprises: alongside art works of lights and projections, locker doors opened and then slammed shut of their own volition, dancers appeared in various states of agitation in changing cubicles, and a couple were entwined on the floor. My one complaint is that the guiding through was all much too fast. The ushers were constantly if gently pushing you on. There was no time to take anything truly in.
Back in the shadows of the poolside, hore human figures appeared amid the mist in the tiered seating upstairs. The section, by Chang Kuo-wei (張國韋) didn’t quite have the same impact, however. It felt less other-worldly, yet in another, physical, sense more distant.
Once back in the pool, more smoke, even more impressive lasers and video, and strange black floating rocks, lit red from inside, created a strange, otherworldly panorama.
It was a super evening, but having subsequently seen a programme, I found the notes confused and confusing. Moving Me Badly is apparently about darkness and light. No surprises there. There are references to how, when we close and open our eyes again, even just a blink, a new memory is formed. That much sort of makes sense, as indeed did the notion that the ‘astronaut’ might be a being in the wrong time and space. There was also something about black holes (no-one actually knows what is inside, which gives free rein to do anything), air and oceans, generals commanding armies and running wars from separate rooms detached from the action, and a lot more. It was a real mish-mash of themes and ideas, probably best put on one side.
All credit to artistic director Wang Jun-jieh (王俊傑) for pulling it all together and producing a show that held the attention so well. It really was a true interweaving of the different arts, one of which he, the new media students, choreographers and dancers should all be proud.
On that point, how good it was also to finally see a true collaboration between two TNUA departments. It’s good for student dancers, composers, musicians or designers, new media artists or whatever them to come together, to learn from each other, and exchange perspectives and ideas; and it’s good for their art forms.