Hwa Gang Dance Troupe: Twilight Whispers

Metropolitan Hall, Taipei
April 16, 2024

University performances continued in Taipei with the Hwa Gang Dance Troupe (華岡舞團) of the Chinese Culture University (中國文化大學) in Twilight Whispers (浮光掠影). In works that covered contemporary dance, modern ballet, martial arts and national dance, the show comprised almost entirely of choreography by faculty, with a restaging of Japanese choreographer Toru Shimazaki’s South (南之頌) rounding things off; a decided bonus.

It was a feast of quality dancing and ensemble choreography. Storm Clouds (風雲異) by Chen Hui-ju (陳慧如) depicted just that. Dressed in black and to drumming that was as insistent as the dance, the cast often swirled around each other as if being blown by the wind. The stormy mood was emphasised in a second section that made great use of light blue banners. With its dramatic conclusion, it was a fine start.

The programme note for Surge (湧) by Yan Tsui-chen (顏翠珍) referred to the path being dangerous and rugged. I’m not sure I got that, but it certainly included some fine lifting and partnering. Fine strands of material thrown towards the end looked like electrical charges in the air.

Surge by Yan Cui-zhen
Photo Gary Kan, courtesy Hwa Gang Dance Troupe

Gazing at the Stars (凝望星空) by Lin Yuh-ching (林郁晶) featured much looking upwards at something distant upstage right that we could not see. It was at its best in the opening section, again to a percussive score. The second part was certainly a contrast musically and choreographically, but did feel like a separate piece.

Although there was no classical ballet work as such, it was often clearly a major influence, none more so than in A Presence That Never Fades (不曾消逝的存在) by Ho Yu-wen (何郁玟). A sort of tale through time, a story of finding someone then being parted, it had a wonderfully wistful opening that grabbed you immediately.

A Presence That Never Fades by He Yu-wen
Photo courtesy Hwa Gang Dance Troupe

Amongst the gorgeous ensemble work and a beautiful yearning solo by You Yi-lin (游沂霖), was that rarity in student shows, a pas de deux. Huang Zhi-de (黃智德) and Chiu Hsiang-zhi’s (邱湘之) dance spoke volumes, but what a shame to drown them with the ensemble? It would have said even more had they had the stage to themselves. The long lifts were fabulous. Huang was secure, strong, attentive and caring. Everything a partner could wish for. He showed fine expression of emotion in face and body too, plus great lightness of foot.

And to top it off, fabulous music in the shape of Ólafur Arnalds’ ‘þÚ Ert Jörðin’ (You are the Earth) from his album And They Have Escaped the Weight of Darkness, a track that shifts like like moonlit clouds drifting across the sky, although the whole CD drips with sentiment; and Sergei Rachmaninov’s Rhapsody on a Theme by Paganini. It sent everyone to the interval purring gently.

The second half brought Doomsday Prayer (末日祈禱) by Su An-li (蘇安莉), which fizzed nicely. Structurally always interesting, it was full of flowing, ever-changing patterns, the contemporary choreography electric like the score.

Doomsday Prayer by Su An-li
Photo Gary Kan, courtesy Hwa Gang Dance Troupe

Chinese classicism came in the shape of Ice Meets the Sun (恰似寒冰遇驕) by Chang Yung-yu (張永煜), which made gorgeous use of fringed orange fans.

It’s rare that even one work reaches out and touches the emotions in university annual performances, let alone two. But that’s then precisely what happened here.

Having been inspired while visiting Taiwan in 2015 and originally created for Dance Forum Taipei (舞蹈空間舞團), Shimazaki’s South is very much a celebration of Taiwan’s indigenous cultures. Performed to a mix of traditional songs and new creations from the country’s aboriginal peoples, and drawing on elements of their dances, it very much invokes the spirit of being together.

Shimazaki draws on elements of aboriginal dance but while giving them a contemporary sentiment, he never loses sight of their soul. Emotion and feeling are writ large.

Hwa Gang Dance Troupe in Toru Shimazaki’s South
Photo courtesy Hwa Gang Dance Troupe

It opens with ‘I’d like to be a bird’ (我願成為一隻鳥), an ensemble dance from which small duets emerge, each seeming to tell a story. ‘Song for my Mother’ (給媽媽的歌) brought a wonderfully expansive and heartfelt solo from Chiu Zi-yun (邱子芸). ‘Wedding Song (Uwanaiyui婚禮之歌) appropriately brought side-by-side, mostly unison duets after soloists You Yi-lin (游沂霖) and Chong Jia-yu (鍾佳羽) were joined by Liu Yan-ming (劉彥明) and Lai Yi-fang (賴義方). The couples very much dance together, yet interestingly barely touch. ‘Toumu’s Song: a song of life’ (頭目之歌(一般生活歌謠)) sees an increasing number of trios dance to traditional ‘call-and-respond’ music. And finally, a wonderfully upbeat ending for all with ‘The Road’ (路). All danced wonderfully well.

My only complaint? It wasn’t long enough. I wanted more. That doesn’t happen much in graduation or annual performances either!