Taiwan Season at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe: Touchdown by Incandescence Dance

Summerhall Online
August 8, 2021

In Touchdown (觸底的形色), Cheng Hao (鄭皓), founder and director of Incandescence Dance (告白熾造) brings his mathematical background to bear in a work inspired by quantum physics. It’s a fascinating, absorbing 30-minute science meets art solo, whether you understand fully the connections he makes or not.

Cheng Hao in Touchdown
Photo Lee Hsin-che

It opens slowly. Clearly, Cheng is really on the floor, but turning the film upside down and the infinite darkness that surrounds him conspire to make it looks like he’s weightless and floating. As starts to move, chalk dust on the chalkboard platform on which the whole work takes place, glows in the light like distant galaxies in the vastness of space.

Whether the accompanying subtitled background about quantum physics is necessary is a moot point. It is impossible to ignore in the same way you can spoken explanation and certainly a distraction from the dance itself; especially, if like me, you have to read it slowly to try and understand it (but then I never was much good at science!).

The screen having flipped the correct way up, Cheng carefully and deliberately draws concentric chalk circles around himself. They look like orbits around the nucleus that is his body. In Chuang Chih-heng (莊知恆) and Lai Ke-chu’s (賴科竹) super lighting, pieces of chalk placed on the lines glow brightly like randomly spaced electrons.

Things get really interesting when the agile Cheng starts to move around his scientific diagram. He never comes to standing. There are moments when it’s almost trance like, but he also tosses and turns violently as if caught in a storm, or perhaps as one might on a really bad night when you just can’t sleep.

While he destroys his carefully drawn diagram in the process, he simultaneously creates a new artwork that effectively shows visual traces of his energy. Abstract lines collide with clear shapes, while parts are distinctly fuzzy. When the camera finally pulls back, it is revealed in all its striking magnificence; and, of course, every show produces something different.

A dramatic and unexpected end sees chalk fall from above like giant hailstones, tap, tapping and shattering as they hit the floor, before calm descends. Blackness returns but images remain in the mind.

This film version doesn’t quite connect in the same way as Touchdown does live, when there’s a greater sense of mind and body being as one, and Cheng Hao’s energy reaches out from his stage. You also get a much better view of the emerging installation as he moves. But it remains an engrossing, quietly stylish watch. Just give it time to develop.