Film of performance at Wellspring Theater, Taipei
October 23, 2020
The two half-hour pieces that make up Sun Shier Dance Theatre’s (三十舞蹈劇場) Lost and Found (失物招領) programme make much use of oversize clothes that make the dancers look headless and bungees respectively. Man Under the Suit (大人) and The Urge to Soar (非飛人) are quite different, but both emphasise a spirit of curiosity, imagination and a willingness to experiment as choreographer Lin Yi-chieh (林依潔) takes the audience to two mysterious, dream-like worlds.
Most satisfying of the two works is The Urge to Soar in which Lin plays with ideas of finding the real self and ideas of freedom and limitations. Hidden in there too is the notion that it’s always worth returning to pursue lost or past dreams. I thought it a “thirty-minute gem” after seeing it at Sun Shier’s 2020 CoDance Festival (相遇舞蹈節). At the Wellspring Theater it looked even better, the larger stage and greater height above giving the dance a chance to breathe fully.
Lin uses bungees to extend the movement possibilities. Yet while they are undoubtedly liberating, allowing the body to glide or hang in the air in ways that would otherwise be impossible, they are simultaneously restricting. You can only go as far as the bungee allows, and it always brings you back.
The opening duet is a delight. Hooked up to his elastic rope, Su Chia-hsien (蘇家賢) swoops and glides as if riding a thermal. Guided by his earth-bound partner Chang Chi-wu (張琪武), who can easily be seen as a second manifestation of the same person, Su sometimes pauses or seems to walk on air. It’s enigmatic and leaves plenty of room for the viewer’s own take on things but for me, the sense is very much of being in a place where real-life consciousness has been replaced by a mind essence.
A brief blackout fades to reveal Su now surrounded by other surreal figures. A lady in a red dress and felt hat looks where her cellphone would be. Another in a blue dress holds a book and a mug. There’s another in black and a man. There are hints at fragments of narrative. They twist and swing on their bungees as Su wanders among them, adjusting their poses, trying to create order out of the confusion of images that are perhaps captured moments from his past. Woodkid and Nils Frahm’s ‘Winter Morning II’ from the film Ellis, which provides the soundtrack here, is remarkably apt with lines such as “The mind plays tricks” and “I had only one thing in mind. One place to be. Like you could fly if you had the wings.”
Later, he is taunted by the figures. They leap at him, hold, push and tug at him. Unison moments, notoriously difficult on bungees, are very well done indeed. He reels back and cowers as they fly over him. The energy and tension are superb. When they lose their restraints, the action turns into a chaotic maelstrom. It ends with them penned in a circle of light, Su back on his own bungee, endlessly circling round and round. For him, there is no escape.
Lin Yi-chieh is noted for her creative use of props. In Man Under the Suit, which opens Lost and Found, she turns to oversize coats with frames inside, designed by Ruby Chen (陳昭蓉). When worn, they make the dancers appear like seven-foot headless giants. The effect is partly lost by sometimes being able to see the dancers’ faces peeking between their lapels, but then the work’s title does tell us they are there.
The opening is bright and quirky and makes much use of everyday gestures of greeting such as handshakes and bows. The dance increasingly shifts away from that early childlike innocence to an adult depth, however. The best moments are undoubtedly the darker ones. The two most powerful both involve one regularly clad dancer among the headless people. At one point there is a whiff of menace as Chong Chia-rong (鍾嘉容) is surrounded by them. Then, about five minutes before the end comes a memorable scene that sees the headless crowd walk slowly off leaving Guo He-yi (郭合易) to who knows what.
Lin has many, many ideas about how to use the costumes, to the extent that Man Under the Suit seems to become more about the suit rather than the man beneath. While many of those ideas work individually and there are some super scenes created with the help of Ho Ting-tsung’s (何定宗) atmospheric lighting, too often I found myself struggling to thread everything together and make sense of what I was seeing.
But it is very important to experiment, and to have an atmosphere in which experimentation is allowed and valued. For that, Lin Yi-chieh and the supportive Sun Shier artistic director Chang Hsiu-ping (張秀萍) should be congratulated. More please!