Shuiyuan Theater, Taipei
November 16, 2019
When I hear that a choreographer has decided to extend an already well-received short piece, the alarm bells start to ring. So often, the original, successful, 20 or 30-minute idea fails to sustain the usual hour it seems is everyone’s target these days. But every so often along comes an exception. Rolling Eyes, (白眼翻翻 2.0), Sun-Shier Dance Theatre (三十舞蹈劇場) co-founder and artistic director Chang Hsiu-ping’s (張秀萍) latest work, is just one such; 80 minutes of dance theatre that holds the attention from start to finish.
An extension and reworking of a half-hour work shown at Sun-Shier’s impressive CoDance Festival (2019相遇舞蹈節) earlier in the year, Rolling Eyes does include the dancers doing just that, although it is not that easy to spot. But there’s much else besides, it being the starting point for the idea of miscommunication, being at cross-purposes, and how body language and the eyes in particular can express exasperation, humour, shock, tedium and more.
It gets off to a super start with a dynamic gesture-driven ensemble dance. You could see the words as the cast talked with their bodies and arms. A line of mics on stands splits the stage. As each dancer launches into a gesture driven solo, each telling its own story but already obvious is that while body language in the sense of physical gesture is important, even more so when humans communicate is the face; and the most important part of that are the eyes.
Running through the work are references to Sigmund Freud’s famous teenage patient, Dora and the notion that a simple action may be the combined result of many things and may have multiple hidden meanings. There is no Dora character as such although Guo He-yi (郭合易) initially stands out as if that teenager, dancing powerfully as if she has uncontrollable voices inside her.
As Rolling Eyes flips between the more general theme and the specifics of Dora, it is always the latter that really make the biggest mark. That’s hardly surprising as she is a fascinating subject. Indeed, and despite the piece as it stands being very engaging, I suspect a work solely focused on her story, a psychological exploration of her mind and emotions, could potentially be an outstanding one.
The dance sequences are invariably well structured with interesting, flowing movement, and well-performed by the always excellent cast. Among the highlights are a super short trio for Guo, Chen Ge-jun (陳革臻) and microphone. My favourite was a later, longer duet between Chang chi-wu (張琪武) and Chen xuan-ling (陳宣伶). One immediately senses a relationship. We listen to the words in the lyrics of the music: “Say when will you return?…Nothing will remain….I love none but you for the rest of my days.” Faces and bodies sometimes tell another story.
The text, so often the weak spot in dance theatre, is remarkably well delivered too. Chang talks about how he loves the mic and how the mic loves him. He tries to make it look real but his while the words say one thing but his body and face tell us it’s all so insincere.
Again, it’s a reference to Dora that’s most powerful, however. Chong Jia-rong (鍾嘉容) speaks movingly about how she thought she had inherited a disease from her father. How she used to mimic her mother, leading others to think she also had syphilis. How she became so good at it, people couldn’t whether it was really true. As ‘Dora’ dances, a Greek chorus, a tragic chorus maybe, in turn mimic her.
There is yet more excellent dance. Wu Shi-han (吳施函) Tseng Shao-tong (曾少彤) and Lin Zhi-qian (林芷仟) perform a taut trio to music in German. Two of them seem to be both a support and a burden to the third (Dora, perhaps), but eventually they leave, and she is alone.
There’s a lot of use of plastic bags. Clear ones are put over heads, blurring faces, they become what looks like a line of laundry and bunting. Li Jian-xuan (李建選) is dressed in a skirt of them while more decorate his arms. A paper bag is put on his head. ‘Installation’ says the sign put on him. He performs balletically. The link to the theme is more tenuous here and the idea works less well, however, although it’s all pulled back together with a smartly choreographed ensemble finale.