Four takes on duets

Experimental Theater, National Theater, Taipei
January 29, 2016
David Mead

Curated by and T.T.C. Dance (張婷婷獨立製作), this year’s Dance Round Table (圓桌舞蹈計畫) proved an interesting and successful bringing together of dancers of different styles and cultural backgrounds, with all four pieces (some serious, some great fun) having the linked theme of duets. T.T.C. artistic director Chang Ting-ting (張婷婷) should be thoroughly congratulated for a cracking evening.

From China, and receiving its premiere, A Line Between Two Points (兩點一線間) by Hui Guanglei (回廣磊) and Lu Yahui (陸雅惠) came in two longer sections and a short coda, all of which could be seen as different aspects of a duet. The first involved the couple moving as one, always linked, each using the other as a platform and support. Lu in particular exhibited much feeling and expression, clearly suggesting meaning and a relationship. In the second, more dynamic part, the togetherness as they ate up the space with their dance was impressive, but no sense of meaning gone, it felt somewhat empty. As a whole, A Line Between Two Points was the least successful (for now) of the evening. The quality of the movement could not be questioned but it did feel a bit like a work in progress, albeit one with promise.

Ruping Wang in Excuse Me!Photo Chen Chang-chih
Ruping Wang in Excuse Me!
Photo Chen Chang-chih

Also new was Excuse Me! by Taipei choreographer-dancer Ruping Wang (王如萍). An unusual opening saw her ask a member of the audience to read some text that formed part of the process of creating the work. It immediately set tone for a dance that may have been a solo in one sense, but that metaphorically at least suggested a duet with someone not there. Packed with meaning, it was at times dramatic and had a sense of loneliness, of someone missing.

There was more powerful dance in Cualquier mañana (any given morning), created and performed by Spanish duo Laura Aris and Álvaro Esteban to original music by Roger Marín. It’s an intimate and physical duet about the natural sadness of broken relationships, and that on any morning things may not be quite what they once were. It opens with Aris drawing lines on Esteban’s arms, shoulders and upper back, which when linked with those already on her, create the infinity symbol. To start there is much nuzzling and getting close, but nothing is for ever, and before long different moments suggest arguments, fights, comings back, being together and walking away. It’s all here and all portrayed very strongly and to great effect.

Laura Aris and Álvaro Esteban in Cualquier mañanaPhoto Chen Chang-chih
Laura Aris and Álvaro Esteban in Cualquier mañana
Photo Chen Chang-chih

And so to O(h), or rather a couple of extended excerpts from the full 70-minute piece by Liz Casebolt and Joel Smith (aka casebolt and smith). It may only have been late January, but if I see another piece this year that’s as much fun, I’ll be doing very well indeed. The pair left you wanting to see the whole piece, which is about as good a recommendation as you can get.

The couple rip apart the process of making dance, but although they busy debunking and making fun of contemporary dance in particular, it’s all done very gently and with disarming charm. There’s much lightning-fast banter, and speaking directly to the audience as they explain what they are doing. They’ve been working together for ten years and it shows. It looks so effortless.

They explain that while they do duets, that is what they are all about, although they don’t do the kinds of duets you see at other dance shows. “It’s important to be clear,” they continue, demonstrating via a long sequence that includes much extending of arms and other gestures while standing side by side. It’s all subsequently explained. Well, sort of, because, of course, there are several possible meanings for each piece of movement. It’s playful, humorous and the timing – comic and dance – is spot on.

Along the way, there’s play on the fact that they are friends, “just friends” as they keep reminding us, that he is gay and she is not, and some direct references towards classics such as Ailey’s Revelations and Kylian’s Petite Mort.

Liz Casebolt and Joel Smith in O(h)Photo Chen Chang-chih
Liz Casebolt and Joel Smith in O(h)
Photo Chen Chang-chih

When it came to the omitted middle part of the show, Smith filled us in, explaining neatly that we missed a couple of solos and a duet that involved an interview using a microphone, “because that’s really trendy in contemporary dance right now.”

The excerpts closed with a structured improvisation that usually ends the piece and in which the couple make a duet (what else!). He gives her lyrics and she sings. She choreographs and he moves. It’s quick-fire stuff, with some of the exaggerations downright hilarious.

While O(h) is often irreverent, Casebolt and Smith do pose some questions about dance and choreography as they explore the dance-making process and most audience’s need for some meaning. But it’s having fun that’s important, and their love for the art form shines through. And if you don’t smile and laugh along with them, dare I suggest you might be taking your dance a tad too seriously.