Dance Theater, Taipei National University of the Arts
March 15, 2020
How we go (女‧子) by Wei Tzu-ling (魏梓錂) and Albert Garcia, MFA students majoring in performance, was in some ways, a regular Taipei National University of the Arts graduation concert. But in these difficult times, it was so much more. With all Taiwan’s major theatres presently closed, this was a rarity indeed: a live performance in a regular venue. Indeed, the first I had seen since arriving in Taipei in mid-January.
For this showcase for their talents, Wei and Garcia invited four choreographers to create or stage works. It was an afternoon as varied as the two dancers’ different movement backgrounds.
It started with a solo for each. Moonlight (月光) by former Cloud Gate Dance Theatre dancer Wang Wei-ming (王維銘) featured Wei lost in a world of thoughts; memories of someone close. Danced to Debussy’s Clair de Lune, at times it was as lyrical, soft and gentle as the music. But every so often that was interrupted by sharper and more cutting moments as though something she may have preferred to forget had worked its way into her mind. The setting, Wei in a black dress, softly lit against a black background (Cheng You’s (鄭悠) lighting was excellent throughout) drew you in perfectly.
Every carnival has something dark behind it reckons choreographer Liu Yen-Cheng (劉彥成), whose Carnival (狂歡節), commissioned specially for the show, was inspired by recent rallies and demonstrations happening around the world. The opening is a dance of joy. As if the brass and percussion of the Rajasthan Express, and Garcia’s footwork and snaking hips were not enough, his face lit up the theatre. It was an excellent example of how dancers talk as much with faces as feet; an aspect of artistry not taught to students as much as it should be.
Darkness soon appears, though. With Garcia backed by projections of protesters and riot police onto a wooden screen, it was impossible not to think of Hong Kong. I struggled with a section in which he wears stilts, however, although his appearance in smoke as if a face in the clouds above the chaos below was rather neatly done. It ends on a rather unhopeful note with those stilts centre stage (was it only me who thought they looked like a gun?) and a white flag of surrender.
Wei and Garcia came together for another commission, You, Me, Not Us by young German choreographer Jan Möllmer. It’s no Romeo and Juliet! It opens with Garcia at a table, having dinner. Hidden underneath, quite literally part of the furniture, is Wei. For a while, he is the figure we really see, the sense conveyed being one of him simply taking her for granted. The timing between the pair in those moments where he physically controls and manipulates her was superbly precise.
Möllmer’s Folkwang School and Wuppertal background are there for all to see, partly in the way it all plays out, but especially in the way it all feels so detached emotionally. Like many relationships portrayed in Pina Bausch’s works, we see but we do not feel; presumably a deliberate choice by Möllmer. There are also moments that might be humorous in another context but that here feel cold. Eventually, Wei snaps, the tables are turned and roles reversed, rather appropriately to Billie Holliday singing ‘You Turn the Tables on Me’. In another downbeat end, it closes with each hurling clothes and a bag at the other, as if each throwing the other out of their home.
The afternoon rounded off with Wei and Garcia being joined by five other dancers for an excerpt from Long River (長河) , a delicious ensemble piece by Lin Wen-chung (林文中). With its dancers in contact for the large part, the choreography is structurally precise. The movement flows like the river of the title, bodies falling and rising. Wei and Garcia emerge for a pleasing duet but it was the ensemble as a whole that took the eye.
Great credit goes to Wei and Garcia, the theatre staff and university for making the performances happen. TNUA’s Dance Theater is relatively small, around 300 seats, and the audience was not even close to three figures, which no doubt helped. There were a lot of precautions in place, of course, all meticulously planned and efficiently communicated and carried out. Face masks were compulsory in the theatre, temperatures were checked and hands sprayed with sanitizer on entry. Names and phone numbers had to be written on ticket stubs, just in case. It’s not how anyone wants to watch dance but needs must and I suspect this is the way it is going to be for quite a while. It was a beacon in these dark days and, fingers crossed, we should have more this coming weekend with Focus Dance (焦點舞團) at TNUA and Sun-Shier’s (三十舞蹈劇場) Co-Dance festival (2020相遇舞蹈節) at Huashan.