A celebration: Focus Dance Company’s After Party at Taipei National University of the Arts

Dance Theater, Taipei National University of the Arts
March 19, 2020

David Mead

I have been known to comment that, ‘you can’t take the choreographer out of the choreography’. It almost always reflects who they are, no matter how hard they try otherwise. Part of the choreographer is their background: who they have danced for, who they have created works with. That is certainly true of both main works in this year’s Focus Dance Company (2020焦點舞團) presentation, After Party (辦什麼派對), although the influences are rather more gentle in one than the other.

The graduating students of Taipei National University of the Arts (國立臺北藝術大學) certainly gave it their all in I will celebrate by alumnus Tien Tsai-wei (田采薇) and Jan Möllmer, who together founded the dance theatre company Perculiar Man in Wuppertal in 2017. The location says it all.

I will celebrate by Tien Tsai-wei and Jan MöllmerPhoto Lin Che-ming
I will celebrate by Tien Tsai-wei and Jan Möllmer
Photo Lin Che-ming 林哲民

A sofa, a rug, and a man. A man who, one senses, is casting his mind back over past times, over regrets, perhaps even loss and suffering. But cast aside all notions of gloom, because I will celebrate is loud, colourful and an absolute delight. As our man sits and contemplates, the rest of the company surge on and around him. They scream and shout in joy.

There are hints at narrative but the sense is more a dipping in and out of his thoughts. More often than not, he watches those around him as if they are not real. It feels like we have an inside track into his mind. There are some really clever moments, such as when the ensemble is used to mask central figures appearing and disappearing. Some of it is gloriously inventive even if it does leave you scratching your head occasionally. Why was the dancer unrolled from a carpet like a scene from a comedy film? Quite honestly, it doesn’t matter. Towards the end there’s also a lovely nod to Pina as they choreographers do their own take on the Nelken line. I will celebrate is forty minutes of great dance and great theatre; one of the best Focus Dance pieces for a long time.

Disappearing Sounds by Chang Chien-mingPhoto Lin Che-ming
Disappearing Sounds by Chang Chien-ming
Photo Lin Che-ming 林哲民

Hofesh Shechter Company dancer Chang Chien-ming (張建明) leaves us in no doubt at all as to his choreographic bloodline. His Disappearing Sounds (隱匿之聲) opens with a gun shot. Seconds later, three dancers have their throats cut. And there’s more killing to come in a work that’s mostly dark and forbidding and very much in Shechter’s image. Even the music is part by him, along some from Polish classical and film music composer Wojciech Kilar.

Dancers dressed in furs and skins contrast with a second group in more modern dark (of course) suits. Chang marshals his large cast well in a piece that relies mainly on ensemble dance. The students carried it off superbly with the unison moments being especially powerful. Yet, that dramatic start is not sustained and tension does start to dissipate. As good as individual moments are, and there is a lot here that is impressive, the piece does start to feel long.

Time Lapse by Chiu Yi-chiehPhoto Lin che-ming
Time Lapse by Chiu Yi-chieh
Photo Lin che-ming 林哲民

The performance opened with Time Lapse (十二铃念) by Chiu Yi-chieh (邱浥婕). After a quiet opening, it bursts into life driven on by the percussive sounds of Kei Kei ( 炯炯) by Kodo (鼓童), an up-tempo piece composed by Kodo performer Yuta Sumiyoshi. The music is youthful and the choreography matches in dance that features lots of arms, especially overhead. Patterns form and break pleasingly. It made for an enjoyable start but why the final coda, in silence? It just felt very unnecessary.

I also rather took to In-Between created by Lai Wei-chun (賴韋蒓) and Hung Sheng-chiao (洪聖喬), performed here by Lee Hsin (李欣) and Chiu Yi-chieh (邱浥婕). In what is a dance of contradictions, we drop in on a relationship that seems to have its problems. We see her pulling and tugging at her partner as if he has drifted away and she is trying to get him back. They wrestle until she is exhausted. More often than not, it is he who seems cold to her. She seems as much frustrated as angry. And yet, amid the conflict, there are moments of attraction and support too.

In-Between by Lai Wei-chun and Hung Sheng-chiao(here danced by the choreographers)>br/>Photo Lin Che-ming
In-Between by Lai Wei-chun and Hung Sheng-chiao
(here danced by the choreographers)
Photo Lin Che-ming 林哲民

The music, Nils Frahm’s Soirée de Poche #25 adds to the mood with its repeated urgent notes and more thoughtful chords. The way it builds never gives the end away and makes you feel nervous for the pair.

I often complain about students not knowing when to end a piece. I see so many unnecessary codas in silence tacked on that I wonder if they are working to a formula. Long fade outs of lights too. But none of that here. In-Between ends skilfully with everything beautifully unresolved as they stand and stare at each other. Perfect.

Mutual by Lai Yun-chiPhoto Lin Che-ming
Mutual by Lai Yun-chi
Photo Lin Che-ming 林哲民

Company member Lai Yun-chi (賴耘琪) contributed three works. Mutual (共) sees four dancers shift in a tangled knot, sometimes breaking apart, although never far since they are kept at close-quarters by long hair extensions knotted together. The choreography is pleasing although if anything the piece would work even better without all that extra hair, which adds little and becomes a distraction.

Two shorter works by Lai fare less well. Better of the pair is the five-minute short, Unseen, that has the dancers in identical overalls and face masks that make them look like clay or plasticine figures; presumably at attempt to hide gender. There is some interesting group work but it does seem to be all about the concept, however. Real, an even shorter solo performed by the choreographer features much falling and twisting but never establishes itself.