Wenshan Theater, Taipei
April 23, 2016
A doll or the clothes in your closet coming to life and having a mind of their own sounds like the stuff seriously bad dreams could be made of. But rest assured, because Sun Shier Dance Theatre’s (三十舞蹈劇場) latest work, The Place: a Puppet, a Closet, a Fantasy (所在－人與偶幻化的奇特空間) by Lin Yi-jie (林依潔) is no nightmare scenario. It’s not a dance that is going to have you hiding under the bedsheets wondering just what your shirts, jackets or dresses might be getting up to behind those wardrobe or closet doors.
What it is, is a successful expansion from a much shorter piece presented last year as part of the company’s short Salon season. It’s also a piece that works well on two levels. It can be viewed simply as an amusing dream or fantasy, but there is a deeper, more thoughtful underlying theme, one of the desire for autonomy and self-determination. In the latter sense, it is cleverly judged follow-up to Sun Shier’s Take Off 2015 (逃亡2015), which last year so successfully looked at the longing for freedom. As in that piece, Lin succeeds in asking questions about a serious subject subtly but effectively, and makes the dance hugely enjoyable at the same time.
The action all takes place in or around a square frame that’s shifted around the stage for each of the work’s five scenes, and manipulated during the final one. The show’s 70 minutes fly past. All the sections are neatly linked, and while obvious, the joins never jar.
In the first part, six dancers expertly manage a large stick puppet that seeks to want to break free of the metal framed box it inhabits. After a while, it is joined by the excellent Su Jia-xian (蘇家賢) who taunts and teases the puppet by showing a freedom of movement it cannot match. The puppet eventually has enough and strikes back. All may not be as simple as it seems, however. Su and the puppet are dressed identically. It’s not a huge leap to see the doll as an incarnation of himself, and maybe a reflection of the fact that he is not as free as he might think.
Section two takes us into the wardrobe where clothes hanging on a rail seek to rid themselves of the restrictions imposed by their hangers and Su, their owner. The clothes continually frustrate his attempts to make them hang neatly and tidily. Leader of the gang is a jacket that refuses stubbornly to be hung up, the other items soon joining in and frustrating Su in his attempts to do so.
The idea is repeated (although the staging and choreography is very different) with what seem to be mannequins in a shop window, who come to life when their dressers are not around; and even occasionally when they are, as when one refuses to let go of a bottle. A quartet has them dance with jackets pulled up so they appear headless. It’s as if the clothes have minds, but no bodies inside them. Not a new idea, but very effectively done nonetheless.
The last section is more poetic and reflective. The frame is turned and shifted around with Su inside, the scene dominated by the original puppet, now sat on the front of the stage, cross-legged, with a hat, briefcase and magazine. And yet, the questions remain. Who is free? What is freedom anyway? Who is most content? Great questions, impressive dance.
大衛・密德(David Mead) 撰