An Eternity Before and After by Lin I-chin and Bare Feet Dance Theatre

Experimental Theater, National Theater, Taipei
April 5, 2019

David Mead

Choreographer and Bare Feet Dance Theatre (壞鞋子舞蹈劇場) artistic director Lin I-chin (林宜瑾) is the latest of several Taiwanese choreographers who say they want to break away from codified and regulated modern dance forms, and in doing so discover links between Taiwan’s traditional culture, rituals, language and customs; and to establish and connect with its people and land through an Asian body energy.

Following on from her 2016 piece, The End of the Rainbow (彩虹的盡頭), An Eternity Before and After (渺生) is inspired by Taiwanese burial songs. It opens with two dancers (here Panay Pan and Liu Chun-tu, 劉俊德; the work has multiple casts) shifting and swaying gently, arms swinging softly.

It takes a while, but the repetitive, minimalist movement does slowly, very slowly, develop. The two dancers shift around one another, there’s a hint of spiral in the body, and later they unexpectedly jump like a bolt of electricity has suddenly surged through them, their feet hitting the floor with unexpected thuds. The pair sometimes work in unison, sometimes mirror and every now and then diverge for a moment. It’s impossible not to recall some work by Tjimur Dance Theatre, although the drive in Lin’s choreography is very different to the more emotional energy usually seen with the Pingdung company.

An Eternity Before and AfterPhoto courtesy Bare Feet Dance Theatre
An Eternity Before and After
Photo courtesy Bare Feet Dance Theatre

The dancers keep up pent-up, one-tempo drive well. The largely minimalist movement is always clear as they maintain the metronomic rhythm. The electronica soundtrack by Lee Tzu-mei (李慈湄) is excellent at suggesting the dance is all taking place in some void, but I searched in vain for any direct link to burial songs. I also struggled to find that all-important personal, sensory connection to the performers, for whom everything is deeply internalised and withdrawn.

In time, the dance develops into more interesting walking patterns that shift around the space. More parallels are inevitable, this time with Anne Teresa de Keersmaeker’s ‘walking dances’. Having spent so long with one slowly developing idea, a section on the floor that moves away from the minimalism and the previous movement quality feels odd and out of place, though.

The work is decorated by Chuang Chih-wei’s (莊志維) installation of suspended metal strips. They start life on the floor, what little light there is playing off them, but remain suspended above once the dance starts. Occasionally they rotate, the odd snatch of light reflecting off them sending glimmers across the theatre’s black walls like fleeting spirits, but largely the installation remains resolutely hidden in the gloom. It’s a wasted opportunity. It could, and should, have been much more integral.

Bare Feet Dance Theatre’s name is a nod to early 20th-century dance pioneer Isadora Duncan. On this showing, Lin is not a rebel to anything like the same extent, but you have to admire her for trying to shift away from the mainstream and follow her own path. It is just unfortunate that whatever internal text there is in An Eternity Before and After, and I am sure it is there somewhere, remains so defiantly hidden that the work finishes up saying very little.