Taipei National University of the Arts, Taiwan
December 31, 2016
When a dance company and choreographer picks up two Taishin Arts Award nominations in its first three years, you know they are something very good indeed. True to form, The Floating Space (浮域誌異) by Wu Chien-wei (吳建緯) and his Tussock Dance Theater (野草舞蹈聚落) proved a great way to end dance in 2016.
Wu has clearly put a lot of time and thought into creating The Floating Space, a deeply beautiful and sensual dance for himself and four others. Although there are narratives within scenes, the work is more a broader reflection on the ignorance and greed of man, the basis being a post-apocalyptic world of chaos where Nüwa (女媧, goddess of order who created humans), Shangui (山鬼, mountain spirit) and Cangjie (倉頡, inventor of Chinese characters, who legend has it had four eyes) are now crippled amid the reality, rubble and mountains of waste.
It all takes place under and around a striking, silver, sculptural, hanging set (stage design by Li Hui-qiu, 李慧秋; and James Teng, 滕孟哲) that depending on the moment takes on the look of a couple of leaves, an animal, a mountain, or simply two pieces of rubbish. All was sensitively lit by Goh Boon-ann (吳文安).
The dance itself is delicate and poetic, full of light and shade. The Floating Space may be minus showy drama and emotion, but what subtlety and gorgeous layering Wu gives us whether in solos, as in the opening animalistic female one, or in duets and trios. While always sensual and soft, the latter are full of beautifully accented moments such as sudden, unexpected lifts, all of which are silky smooth, made to effortless, as if whoever is being lifted is suddenly somehow floating on air. One duet sees the two dancers’ bodies doubling around each other, intertwining, like the best ingredients being gently but oh so purposefully folded together in a bowl. A sense of breath runs through everything as movements are sustained. Even a fight between two men is full of grace and beauty.
The whole cast were outstanding (Wu was joined by Wang Yuan-li, 王元俐; Chen Jia-hong, 陳佳宏; Lin Yu-hua, 林鈺華; and Shen Ying-ying, 沈盈盈), not only in their dance, but also their sheer stage presence. You dare not take your eyes off them. They made you want to watch.
Whereas many choreographers seem to run full pelt at their dance, here, time is plentiful. Nothing is a rush. Wu is never afraid to throw in pauses too, allowing you to take in the moment.
Silences between music emphasise the action or mood wonderfully. One has no movement at all, the dancers presenting a striking still image for nigh on thirty seconds. That’s a brave thing to do, but it’s carried off wonderfully. You could have heard a pin drop in the theatre such was the hold the dancers had on the audience. One pause in the music is used cleverly as we hear the sound of the dancer’s hands and feel squeaking as they slide across the floor.
Conventional wisdom tells us that, at around 80 minutes, The Floating Space is maybe ten minutes or so too long, but then dance like this can’t be rushed, and neither should it be. To do so would undoubtedly ruin the spectacle, one that I dare to suggest European theatres should take a serious look at.