A study in white: B.DANCE in Floating Flowers

Dance Base, Edinburgh
August 9, 2019

David Mead

Dressed in white full-length, hooped, tulle skirts, four male and four female dancers paint stunningly beautiful images as they glide around the stage. They symbolise candle-lit floating lanterns that are set afloat in Taiwan as part of the religious celebration of Ghost Season. An act of worship, they also send away bad luck and bring happiness. Floating Flowers (浮花) by Tsai Po-cheng (蔡博丞) for B-Dance certainly brings the latter to the Dance Base audience.

One of Taiwan’s most promising young choreographers (presently an unfortunately near exclusively male group), Tsai developed Floating Flowers from a much-acclaimed duet made for Stuttgart’s Gauthier Dance in 2014. It’s one of those lovely occasions where an extension of an idea works superbly, although seen here without its accompanying projections; probably a happy necessity. The white of the dancers sits perfectly against the black background. Tsai’s dance doesn’t need any support. Film visuals would only be distracting.

Floating Flowers  by Tsai Po-chengPhoto Maria Falconer
Floating Flowers by Tsai Po-cheng
Photo Maria Falconer

It opens with the dancers sitting around in black practice dress, some stretching vaguely, some staring vacantly into space. While it may emphasise the whiteness of what follows, it adds little.

That soon passes, though. Now in costume, lines of dancers break into less formal, shifting arrangements. Like lanterns on the water, the performers are always on the move. Wrists, fingers, fold and unfold like the flickering flames of candles, each painting its own pictures. The level of detail is tremendous.

The dance, like its inspiration and its roots, is a fusion of east and west. There are hints of martial arts but also of classical ballet (you can be forgiven if you think swans from time to time). Duets and solos bring different moods, their own memories and wishes.

Super-pliant upper bodies twist and bend. Sometimes the dancers glide as if on castors, blown by an unseen wind. It’s an expression of spirit as much as of body.

Floating Flowers by Tsai Po-chengPhoto Lucas Kao
Floating Flowers by Tsai Po-cheng
Photo Lucas Kao

Tsai constantly surprises. At one point, the dancers add their own percussion, clapping and stamping. There are moments of humour and it sometimes gets playful. There’s a lot of holding skirts up. One section has the women on the men’s shoulders. It does make them super-tall, but it sits oddly. It’s not what one immediately thinks of as a floating flower, looking slightly clumsy, the upper body and legs not working as one and clearly belonging to different beings. But then blooms come in all forms.

The final sections are increasingly driven on by Li Ming-chieh’s (李銘杰) driving soundtrack. The dance becomes increasingly fast-paced and energetic. The gentle breezes of the beginning turn into a driving storm; the floating dancers now pushed dramatically along. It is rather reminiscent of much of Sharon Eyal’s choreography (as indeed is the music at this point of her frequent collaborator Ori Lichtik), with much use made of unison from which individuals break away before rejoining the ensemble, but Tsai allows more individuality. I doubt you will see more physicality, more non-stop energy, from any dance piece this Fringe.

It ends with a frozen image; a group spot-lit on an otherwise dark stage. The light may fade, but the memories do not.

Floating Flowers by Tsai Po-cheng and B-Dance is at Dance Base to August 25. Visit www.dancebase.co.uk for details and tickets.