A trip into the darkness of emotional loneliness and frustration: B.DANCE in Rage

Online (streamed by University of Washington Taiwan Studies Program)
May 26, 2021

Inspired partly by the response to the May 2014 mass stabbing by an individual on the Taipei Metro that left four people dead and over twenty injured, and other violent crimes (rare in Taiwan); and partly by the eponymous crime novel by the Japanese writer Yoshida Shuichi and the subsequent film directed by Lee Sang-il; Rage by choreographer and B.DANCE (丞舞製作團隊) founder-director Tsai Po-cheng (蔡博丞) considers the impact of violence and anger in society.

Superbly danced and brim full of atmosphere that you feel even watching online, it’s a beautiful, if dark, work; a journey into the desolation and loneliness that sometimes exists in the human soul.

It opens powerfully. Surrounded by darkness and in absolute silence, a woman, Huang I-han (黃依涵), lies prone on the floor. After a blackout, we see her standing, apparently in shock; the hem of her dress shifting gently in the slight breeze from a fan the only sign of movement. Already you sense that something big has happened, and more is going to happen very soon. More images, more blackouts; flashbacks perhaps, moments that lead us to where we now are. She shakes. She jumps at an unresponsive man. She grabs her throat, her other hand reaching up. Drowning. Suffocating perhaps.

Huang I-han and Chang Sheng-ho in Rage by Po Tsai-cheng
Still from film

When the other dancers approach from the semi-darkness and form a circle around her, Huang dances an expressive solo in which her whole body speaks but they stand, looking down. Even when approached, like bystanders to an attack, they are not indifferent, but they don’t want to get involved; a feeling emphasised when she tries to grab hold of someone but finds no support, no way to hang on.

As the others express their feelings one by one, their dance is loaded with an impressive combination of speed and suspension, flow and pause, and always marvellous clarity. Always too that sense of emotional distance.

A beautiful and emotionally loaded duet between Huang and Chang Sheng-ho (張聖和) sees both dancers cleverly supported by the ensemble. Together physically but in other ways so very far apart. Ezio Bosso’s strings and Otto Chang’s (張廷仲) lighting magnify the mood superbly. Later she leaps and tries to cling on to him but repeatedly slides down. Is it that he doesn’t want to respond or, perhaps more likely, that he doesn’t know how to?

B.DANCE in Rage by Po Tsai-cheng
Photo Liu Ren-haur

For her, meanwhile, you sense it’s not just loneliness, not just the lack of empathy and support, it’s the frustration of not being able to do anything about it. It’s a struggle against oneself as much as anything.

Tsai continues to construct superb moment after superb moment. One scene sees Huang buffeted back and forth by the clapping hands and slapping of palms on thighs by the others that suggests a torrent of words. There’s a powerful scene featuring two all-female couples in athletic, fast-moving and physical duets. Another duet for two men is more aggressive and suggests a fight. It’s breathless. You feel you are watching the group, society, fall apart, if it hasn’t done so already.

Towards the end there is perhaps just a hint of awareness of what has happened. The group come together and push Huang across the stage, ending in a silent scream from all. A moment that just maybe indicates a realisation of what society has become.

B.DANCE in Rage by Po Tsai-cheng
Photo Liu Ren-haur

At forty-five minutes, Rage is just about spot on. Long enough to powerfully make its point, but not so long as to dissipate its impact. When it finally ends, you breathe, and you take a moment to take it all in.

British audiences got a taste of B.DANCE at the 2019 Edinburgh Fringe with Tsai’s incredibly successful Floating Flowers. I know Rage appeals to my sensitivities, but I reckon it’s in another league altogether. It’s unforgettable and certainly the best work of his I have seen. I can’t wait to see them back, and to see this live.