Theaterhaus, Stuttgart (as part of the Colours International Dance Festival)
July 4, 2019
There is an interview with Akram Khan in the programme book for the Colours International Dance Festival in which he expresses concern that a lot of dance today is eliminating the beauty and power of movement in favour of conceptual, intellectual ideas. He has a very valid point, but there is none of that in From IN (一撇一捺) by XieXin Dance Theater (謝欣舞蹈劇場) from Shanghai, an hour of dance exclusively about the beauty of the body in motion.
Xie Xin’s (謝欣) dance has a flowing elegance. The opening sections in particular have a lot of circles and spirals in the movement. There is a lot of unison and the use of breath is very obvious. There is an almost complete absence of sharp edges and certainly none of the aggression or roughness that is sometimes seen from contemporary choreographers, in Europe especially.
There’s also not much in the way of changes of mood, although a lot of that is down to the music by Jiang Shaofeng (姜少峰) and Yin Yi (殷漪). There are odd moments when they introduce interesting sounds but it’s the easiest of easy listening and largely instantly forgettable.
The dancers are terrific, though. They are lithe, pliant, supple. They move with grace and ease. From IN really is a vehicle for Xie Xin, though. She is invariably at the front and centre of any group sections.
She appears in a couple of super duets too. As if a first with Liu Xue (劉學) is not attractive enough, she then appears with Liu Xuefang (劉學芳) in a partnership that includes lots of elegant supports and lifts. Some are strong and powerful as when she is taken around his body, but sometimes it’s like she’s being carried on currents of wind as it gusts. Xie Xin is always a bit too keen to introduce more bodies and return to the ensemble, though. Such moments tend to be cut short by the arrival of other dancers, with scenes or ideas not being given the chance to develop to the full.
Perhaps coming back to ensemble and unison is what Xie Xin means when she talks of the work being about the connection between people. It’s a representation of their being in the same space, in the same moment. But although people were dancing together, what I didn’t get was much in the way of individuality or personal connection other than being in the same space.
When surprise does come, it’s hugely effective. One such moment sees dancers line up at the front of the stage, for some odd reason start to smile, before being jolted into action as if hit by individual bolts of electricity. But on the whole, there’s not a huge amount of tension or much in the way of change in dynamic. It all just flows along very pleasantly like a gently meandering rover.
Towards the end, and equally out of the blue comes a striking solo by Hu Shenyuan (胡沈員). Alone and bathed in a pool of light, it’s clearly martial arts influenced but with more than a hint of breakin’ in there too. It’s sharp, clean, precise. That’s followed by a shift through the gears and a fast-moving, dynamic section that’s a feast of movement, of swirling arms especially.
The piece is complimented by Li Kun’s (李昆) lovely thin linen trousers and loose tops, mostly cream coloured.
On this occasion, From IN was also bedevilled by transitions that I suspect are supposed to be in black-out. The light coloured costumes and white floor make it difficult enough, but the Theaterhaus’ T3 also has a lot of ambient light from various signs. Dancers walking on and off (and there is an awful lot of walking on and off) or walking into new positions for a new section was very obvious.
From IN is a very different contemporary dance aesthetic to that seen in the West. In the regional context, the choreography is not ground-breaking and the style far from unique, however. At times, the movement but especially the structure reminded me of school and university graduation performances I see in Taiwan (as impressive as they always are). It is a beautiful piece of art, though; and was beautifully danced.
Earlier that evening I caught Philippe Saire’s Black Out. It’s at the other end of the conceptual scale.
The Lausanne-based choreographer likes to experiment with unusual perspectives and materials. Here, the audience watches from above. The sense is of somewhere sunny as we see three dancers spread out alongside their towels. There’s a bit of flopping and turning over before nine huge dollops of something black falls from the sky, each thudding on the floor; not so much ash as the programme note suggests, but grit.
What we then see apparently deals with the slow disappearance and erasure of oneself; except that it doesn’t and we see everything. Philippe Chosson and Benjamin Kahn rather obviously change into head to toe black suits and use shovels to make patterns in the grit around Maëlle Desclaux’s prone body. They forceably spray the grit around as if raging against something before, like death’s little helpers, they dress her in a similar suit and bury her.
Watching the men create, destroy and recreate their visual art is mildly engaging, and viewing from a different perspective is interesting, but that’s really about as far as it goes.