Experimental Theater at the National Theater, Taipei
November 24, 2017
‘Spur’ (溯形) means ‘trace’ (as in ‘there was just a trace of narrative’) in German and that is precisely what Berlin-based, Taiwanese choreographer Sun Shang-chi (孫尚綺) delivers: fragments of memories, of stories, of the four dancers, from different times and places, coming together and colliding right in front of our eyes. It’s a jigsaw of moments, or perhaps pieces of four jigsaws, that while not fitting together comfortably, does make for interesting outcomes.
An important aspect of the work is unusual contemporary soundscapes of composer Beat Furrer’s Solo for Cello and Phasma for Piano, played live on stage by Ringela Riemke and Frank Gutschmidt of chamber group Ensemble KNM Berlin. Both gave astonishing performances as they coaxed an often strange array of sounds from their instruments.
I don’t think I would want to listen to Furrer’s work in the comfort of my home. It sounds a bit like conventional scores have been put through a mincer before being played. A bit like Sun’s dance, what you get are fragments; an array of single notes and dissonant chords with no structure, at least in the conventional sense. But mince can be a really tasty dish; and the music and dance really do come together very well indeed.
After a sensual opening solo from Ying Ting-an (鄞廷安), all flowing limbs, the dancers come together in duets and trios, their individual stories meeting, those remaining sitting out on chairs, sometimes slumped or head in hands as though lost in memories. The choreography is complex with a lot of interplay physically and spatially. I particularly enjoyed an energetic duet between Malcolm Sutherland and Samuel Déniz Falcón.
Although they sometimes move around Riemke on cello, I detected little connection between them and her, or them and the music, though. Sun’s dance is also largely busy, pretty much non-stop, while Furrer’s Solo for Cello is a quiet piece, sometimes very quiet, and makes judicious use of silences. An even bigger issue, though, was the noise from the dancers, whose feet constantly squeaked on the floor; and you didn’t need to see them walking, you could hear the thud, thud of each step.
For some reason Sun decides to get all realistic in the necessary pause between the two pieces of music. There’s a children’s clapping game, the dancers make rabbit ears and indulge in a tedious follow-my-leader, they pose for selfies holding a pretend camera. If it’s an attempt at humour, it falls rather flat.
But then comes the joy of Gutschmidt on piano. Always animated, he crashed out chords with his forearm or palms, leapt up to place things inside the piano and more. It was like having a fifth dancer on stage. Even better, there was a remarkable fit between between dance and music, and a true connection between dancers and musician. I just wish Sun hadn’t felt the need to have them vocalise at one point. After all its frantic pace, Spur does manage to find a quiet ending in a duet between Ying and Fernando Balsera Pita that’s calm but with a sense of tension about it.
And then, just like fragments of memories, moments in time, it’s gone. Over. Fifty-five minutes that largely flew by; always a good sign.