Umay Theater, Huashan 1914 Creative Park, Taipei
March 24, 2019
This year’s CoDance Festival (2019相遇舞蹈節), organised by Sun-Shier Dance Theatre (三十舞蹈劇場), brought together eight works in three programmes; a mix of reworkings, works effectively in progress and more established pieces. As always, it was hugely varied, a good demonstration of the breadth of dance being created in Taiwan.
The double-bill that was Programme A, Cross-border friends (跨界交朋友), was opened by Deluge (八八) by Lin Ting-syu (林廷緒), which references the disaster of August 6-10, 2009, when almost 700 people died in Southern Taiwan in Typhoon Morakot, the incidents surrounding which are remembered as the Eight-Eight Flood (八八水災).
The choreography for the cast of Hsu Wan-lin (謝宛霖), Wen Yun-chu (文韻筑) and Tu Li-wei (凃立葦) is hugely engaging and was beautifully performed. The opening pulsing dance, much of it floor-based, matches the throbbing percussive score perfectly. Chao Yu-han’s (趙鈺涵) set of lines of hanging strips of material helps create an otherworldly feel, a mood only magnified when what sounds like chains clanking is heard in the music. It conjures up a primaeval world. It feels like we are watching lost souls in a strange land.
The super choreography continues. One section sees the three dancers stretched out in a chain, occasionally coming together in a tangled mess. The highlight, though, is a riveting solo from Hsu. Lithe and close to the floor, it’s full of detail.
The links to the Eight-Eight Flood are there. Villages were totally obliterated, in a sense leaving the souls of those who died to wander in search of peace. The fabulous live percussion from stage left, courtesy of Hung Yu-wen (洪于雯) and full of clangs and rumbles can be seen as echoing the destructive force of the storm well.
Connections become very real about two-thirds the way through, when survivor of the disaster, Chou Jin-yuan (周金源) speaks about it. Experiencing disasters can be a very numbing experience but it was unfortunate artistically that the words were delivered without feeling and with no connection with the dancers; not even a glance. All a huge shame because it could have been very powerful.
Deluge is very promising. Lin can certainly create mood and feeling with his dance. I suspect there is an excellent 40-minute or so work not that far from bubbling its way to the surface. It just needs refining, but then seeing just how things work with an audience is precisely what CoDance is partly about.
An expanded version of Lin’s 15-minute The Body that Does Not Exist (一個不存在的身體), presented in 2017, Deluge is an example of taking a piece further that may actually work. It’s a tricky thing to do, though. It’s easy to understand why choreographers want to enlarge an already successful piece but they are successful because they work as they are, in the context for which they were originally choreographed. This is especially true of competition pieces, which have to fulfil specific criteria. So often, stretching existing themes simply dilutes them, and adding new ideas just confuses.
Back in 2016, Chang Kuo-wei (張國韋) presented a hip-hop inspired dance at Taipei National University of the Arts’ (TNUA) winter concert. Alternate Realm (鏡界) was both refreshing and the hit of the show. Hip-hop is again the central style for his Friends of Friends* (友沒友).
It does not get off to the greatest start. Chang unfolds and then inflates a giant mat. While it blows up, he sits on a box and taps idly. He lounges on a sofa. He looked totally disinterested. It is not the ideal way to engage the audience.
Things pick up when Qiu Shi-hui (邱仕惠), Lin Qi-yang (林啟揚) and Dai Qi-lun (戴啟倫) show up, though. There’s not a huge amount of structure but what we do see are friends hanging out together, joking, messing around, showing off a little and generally having a good time. It’s all summed up by, “These are a few of my favourite things,” heard in the music at the end.
There are some impressive somersaults and flips. But while the bouncy mat certainly helps with those, it’s also responsible for a host of problems when it comes to breakin’, headspins and the rest of the hip hop. Because it moves, nothing can be properly grounded. Everything looks and indeed is unstable. Clarity gets lost.
Again, not a bad premise but in need of structure, better music than the nondescript muzak it presently has and, ideally, dispensing with the mat (it’s not difficult to find hip hop dancers flipping away quite happily without one) or at least making it more integral.
It was not possible to see the other two programmes, although both sounded full of interest. In Programme B, Faceless Snail* (無臉蝸牛) by Wang Yeu-kwn (王宇光) was a slightly extended version of his 2018 original, indeed inspired by the traces left by snails. Almost doubled in length to 15 minutes was Unspoken Rules* (潛規則) by Chen Chao-chun (陳兆豊), a look at those social rules that unconsciously affect the way we act and interact with others. Rolling Eyes (白眼翻翻) by Sun-Shier’s artistic director, Chang Hsiu-ping (張秀萍) is a 30-minute psychological exploration of minds and emotions for eight dancers.
In Programme C, Jump, Lift, Soar, Think* (蹦•舉•騰•思) by Lin Yi-jie (林依潔) uses aerial work and bungees to explore gravity and freedom. Raining in the Room by Lai Hung-chung (賴翃中) is another majorly reworked piece, this time of his same-titled and impressive 2017 Kaohsiung City Ballet Dance Shoe work, which he has shifted to contemporary dance (Note to choreographers: please don’t use the same title when substantially changing or extending works. It’s not the same piece, so it’s a bit silly to use the same name.). Finally, inspired by passages from Friedrich Nietzsche’s Thus Spoke Zarathustra, Abyss (深 淵) by Luo Wen-jin (羅文瑾), artistic director of Scarecrow Dance Theatre (稻草人舞團), takes up the idea of seeing mankind as a rope over a chasm, balancing animal and Superman.
Again, top marks for Sun-Shier Dance Theatre for the four days. It’s impossible to underestimate the importance of mini-festivals such as CoDance. They provide a much-needed platform for new and emerging choreographers, and, for some, a chance to try out ideas and as yet unfinished creations. Somehow, the roughly Umay Theater seems a perfect space too. More please!
Note: Works asterisked (*) are only titled in Chinese. The English translations given are SeeingDance’s and not by the choreographer.