National Taichung Theater, Taiwan
February 25, 2017
American singer-songwriter Patti Smith has been labelled the ‘godmother of punk’ by critics and fans. “But I was not really a punk, and my band was never a punk rock band,” she insisted in a 2015 interview for the BBC. It’s true. Her music was not so much a repudiation of history (she was not advocating musical anarchy) as a reawakening of its creative spirit. Which brings us to Marco Goecke, whose idiosyncratic choreographic style, full of frenetic, warp speed sharp movement, often angular, often involving quivering limbs and stuttering gesture, is also not so much a repudiation of classical form, but a reimagining of it, as evidenced by his frequent melting of that into gorgeous arabesques and attitudes that seem to appear from nowhere.
The pair come together in Goecke’s Thin Skin, which opened the programme. The dance is as breathless as the lyrics of the accompanying music. Goecke creates a surprising cohesion between the various solos, duets and ensemble sections that make up the work. Meaning, if there is any, remains elusive, but who cares? The accuracy, clarity and timing of the whole cast was outstanding. The highlight comes at the end, a strikingly beautifully duet by Jorge Nozal and Wu Meng-ke (吳孟珂), appearing back in her home city.
Strongest of the three pieces is Crystal Pite’s In the Event. It opens with a tableau of people huddled over a prone woman. A man seems to be mapping out her body, his movements obsessive and sharp. It’s coincidence, but it’s impossible not to connect with the Goecke just seen. When she suddenly rises and walks away, the remaining seven dancers are sent into a sequence that ripples and surges across the stage in typical Pite style, the performers often forming a human chain with their limbs. There’s a lot of arching to the floor, the dancers looking like a wave crashing on a beach.
Although nothing is explained, it’s impossible not to feel a sense of narrative. Feeling runs deep. The dance is set against Jay Gower Taylor’s rippling backcloth with its lunar-surface-like pattern, and that later has lightning-like crackles. The impression is of explorers, maybe on some distant planet, maybe in some deep cave. The mood is enhanced by Owen Belton’s rumbling, other-worldly score.
Of a number of duets, the best is left to last, after which she takes us back to the man, now alone, marking out that woman’s body as if he is tracing a memory. There’s a sense of very personal loss.
Rounding things off, Stop-Motion by Sol León and Paul Lightfoot sets out to portray the emotion, confusion and change always present in a process of farewell and transformation. Specifically, it was created as a way of capturing the transformation of their daughter, Saura, then 15, from child to woman, and whose image looms over the dance throughout courtesy of some beautifully shot film, replayed in slow motion.
Unfortunately, and despite being well-served by typically moody, atmospheric musical selections from Max Richter, the dance rarely manages to reflect the emotions of the process. An exception is a solo by Prince Credell that takes place on a bed of dusty chalk (revealed by removing a section of dance floor). The powder falling through his hands is beautifully symbolic of the past falling away. Then there are the closing moments. Saura’s image changes to that of an owl, who flutters its wings as if uncertain, before taking the leap and flying away. Below, a final duet is played out between the quivering and seemingly afraid woman and a man who consoles and comforts her. You can argue it’s too obvious and a bit sugar sweet, but it’s also beautifully poignant.
It ends with a reference to another process of change. The sides and backdrop are stripped away, the theatre laid bare. It’s a comment on the destruction of the Lucent Danstheater in The Hague, now part of an expansion program that will create a larger cultural centre. Despite the building being their home, NDT were not initially consulted on the proposals for the rebuild, although they have approved a subsequent plan.