New dance in Taipei: ‘Micro Dance’ by Tien Hsiao-tzu, Cheng Hao, Su Pin-wen

Experimental Theater, National Theater, Taipei
October 12, 2019

David Mead

The main limitation for this Micro Dance (微舞作) programme, part of the Dancing in Autumn (舞蹈秋天) season at the Experimental Theater, was that each of the three new works by new choreographers could last no longer than the timeframe of a TED video, around 30 minutes. Concept was very much to the fore in all three pieces, in two of them trumping any notion of what most people would regard as the dancing body; not just overpowering technique and recognisable language but tossing it in the garbage truck. The results were mixed.

Best of the three works by a very long way was the final Touchdown (觸底的形色) by Cheng Hao (鄭皓) in which he brings all his mathematician background to bear in a work inspired by quantum physics. Where it really scores over the other two works was that it has great clarity of idea and purpose, something almost certainly helped by Cheng having Chou Shu-yi (周書毅) as a ‘creation consultant’.

Cheng Hao in TouchdownPhoto Chang Chen-chou
Cheng Hao in Touchdown
Photo Chang Chen-chou

I’m not convinced the opening monologue is entirely necessary, although it does set things up. On his raised platform and as if he is the nucleus, Cheng first draws concentric circles around himself with chalk. Pieces of chalk are then placed on the lines, which presumably represent randomly spaced electrons on each.

Things get really interesting when he starts to move around the model drawing further shapes including circles and triangles. The floor art work resembled Kandinsky on steroids before being destroyed by his lithe, easy-moving moving self. But things are not totally erased. Deconstruction becomes the cornerstone of new creation as a new work emerges. A dramatic and unexpected end sees chalks fall from above like giant hailstones, shattering as they hit the floor, before calm descends.

It was quite fascinating, whether or not you understood the science behind it. It was also superbly lit by Chuang Chih-heng (莊知恆), with the effect of creating Cheng’s shadow within circles on the theatre wall towards the end being especially effective.

I wish I could be even half as positive about the other two pieces. Lucid Dream (清醒夢) by Tien Hsiao-tzu (田孝慈) may have hinted at a dream in the sense of something you always wanted to do, but was certainly not lucid.

Lucid Dream by Tien Hsiao-tzuPhoto Chang Chen-chou
Lucid Dream by Tien Hsiao-tzu
Photo Chang Chen-chou

The opening features a woman in a bridal dress of more layers than you dare think about emerging from the audience. The end sees her high is the gantry. Presumably she is another dream, but it’s desperately unclear and there’s no obvious link to anything else in the piece.

The rest of the work has a vague theme of swans and Swan Lake running through it (Saint-Saens’ Dying Swan is heard a lot). One of the better moments features someone wearing a humorous swan headpiece but it’s not developed. There are other interesting ideas (dancing ballet badly not being one of them), but the work is desperately in need of direction. Dare I say it, a dramaturg or decent outside eye, maybe.

But even that was better than Su Pin-wen’s (蘇品文) Ń hēng (嗯哼). The title translates as a sort of ‘uh huh’, a non-verbal grunt, which rather says it all.

Apparently, it addresses traditional thoughts on male-female gender identity; how physical, psychological and social dimensions are fixed; and on innate, insurmountable physiological differences. The programme note also waffles on about metaphysical training, long-term attention to women’s issues and feminism, none of which are apparent in the piece.

After mimicking men standing at a urinal, the work revolves around two largely naked women playing with a couple of sex toys. To get to that state of undress, we first have to endure watching them undress without using their hands. A third performer (I hesitate to call them dancers) later does similar but at least she had stage presence and showed some intent and performance quality, all missing elsewhere.

It was as crass and crude as it sounds but, worst of all, it was deathly dull, even as conceptual art (dance in any usual meaning of the word this was not; and dance is not ‘anything goes’). The large number of people in the audience staring into space or with heads in the programme spoke volumes. I can only assume that the written proposal was dramatically better than the ‘art’ that emerged.