National Taiwan University of Sport, Dance Department Graduation Performance

Metropolitan Hall, Taipei
April 4, 2024

University dance department graduation performances at Taipei’s Metropolitan Hall opened with a visit from Taichung of the National Taiwan University of Sport (國立臺灣體育運動大學) and a programme titled Ecstasy (狂喜).

The evening of largely student work consisted entirely of ensemble creations. There was a lot of excellent committed dancing, and a lot of well-managed group choreography. Whether any of the budding choreographers can manage the subtleties of even a short duet remained largely hidden, however. Equally, only very occasionally were individuals allowed to shine as individuals. For the most part, the ensemble was all.

Most of the pieces also came in a monochrome palette: black and grey costumes, against a black background, often dimly lit, and on a black floor. But dim doesn’t mean dark and thanks to some judicious lighting design, it was mostly possible to see. The choreography itself was more varied, although intent and meaning often found themselves well hidden.

Dewy Fragrance by Wang Chian-han
Photo B.O. Photo

Best of the student works were two Chinese dance pieces. After all the darkness, the brightly lit Dewy Fragrance (露凝香) by Wang Chian-han (王芊涵), which closed the first half, came as a relief. When against the black background it has the feel of a garden during a warm night, petals falling gently on dancers in shades of pink. But then the dawn arrives, presumably producing that dewy blossom scent of the title. Not only beautiful but wonderfully danced too. It was lovely to watch something simply for what it is and to enjoy the gorgeous pictures painted rather than have to search for deeply hidden meaning.

I also very much took to Ninja (忍) by Huang Mu-en (黃沐恩). A more dramatic affair, it takes as its theme those who remain anonymous and lurk in the shadows as they strive to achieve their mission. It has an air of mystery tinged with menace from the off, which, if anything, ramps up as the piece progresses, the dance always full of swirling fabric and powerful, dramatic movement. Fabulous costumes too, huge fringed hats not only hide faces but whole heads.

Keep the Romance Alive by Huang Jing-en
Photo B.O. Photo

In the second half, Keep the romance alive (保持浪漫) by Huang Jing-en (黃靖恩) draws on the idea of how people both embrace and resist or fight one another in relationships. Brightly lit, and daring to be a little different, it’s occasionally amusing, as in the opening section that sees a minor argument over a chair; and occasionally wistful, especially a dance to Judy Garland singing ‘Somewhere over the Rainbow,’ where the choreography contrasted perfectly with the music. The middle section, to ‘Porc#1’ by Moderat jars, but probably is needed to balance the closing scene to Edith Piaf’s ‘La Vie en rose.’ I just wish Huang had not asked one dancer to mime singing. It never looks good.

Also instantly obvious in intent, Shaky road (跚途) by Wang Chian-shiun (王千薰) immediately yells travellers and a difficult journey. The colour palette suggests a desert, or at least, a very long, very dusty journey. Very cinematic music equally suggests a big landscape. It loses the feeling in the middle a little, but does get it back.

Shaky Road by Wang Chian-shiun
Photo B.O. Photo

There was much to like in Mountain, Ink (巒·墨) by Huang Yi-jung (黃苡榕), which was inspired by winter mountains, cold and flowing rivers. It was indeed very inky, monochromatic in one sense but full of colour in another. The sound of running water is audible in Japanese taiko-ist Takuya’s score (both tracks appropriately from an album titled Beautiful Colours), also hinted at in the more abstract-feeling, albeit pleasing, movement.

Mountain, Ink by Huang Yi-jung
Photo B.O. Photo

Elsewhere, classical ballet put in an appearance with an extract from Les Sylphides, adapted by Chang Jing-jing (張菁菁) and Chen Ting-an (陳亭安), in which the women danced decorously and neatly. Losing touch with reality (與現實失去聯繫) by Lin Nien-yi (林念誼) features lots of red strobe lighting and hand-held light tubes, as usual, neither contributing hugely. There was more red light in Mysterious (玄) by Li Rui (李叡) that features a mass of bodies or souls and feels like a sort of underworld; a cross between a rave and hell. Completing the student contributions were Deep Breathing by Lai Chia-jung (賴珈絨), inspired by the fact breath is an ever-present and personal companion to us in life; and Transmutation of the withered beast (枯獸嬗變) by Chu Chien-rong (朱茜蓉), which certainly has a tribal, primitive aggressive feel, although movement connection with ideas of competition and survival of the fittest in nature remained vague.

Looking back, it’s impossible to avoid seeing the closing Resound (亮) by well-known choreographer, Hsu Chien-wei (許程崴), as anything but a nod to the journey of a dance student through university, from dark openings to the rejoicing and celebration of graduation. The opening is very effective if very, very dark. With the cast in black, all you could see were glimpses of bare skin. When the light does come up, the abstract-feeling dance made for a fine conclusion to the evening.

Resound by Hsu Chien-wei
Photo B.O. Photo

Taipei Elementary and Junior High Schools Talented Student Performance

Two days earlier, the Metropolitan Hall played host to the two elementary schools (ages 6-12; Dong Men, 東門國小; and Yong Le, 永樂國小) and two junior high schools (ages 13-15; Bei An, 北安國中; and Shuang Yuan, 雙園國中) in Taiwan’s Talented Student Programme. That’s pre-professional training but with classes embedded in regular schools.

The young dancers delighted. Skill and commitment were everywhere with performance and production standards high throughout.

Ballet in performance at this level in Taiwan can be extremely variable. So, somewhat surprisingly, the highlight of the show turned out to be Shimmering Light (微光) by Wei Shao-yu (鍾佩芹), a contemporary ballet piece without pointework danced by Bei An’s 8th grade (14-year-old) students. Busy, bright, light and airy in feel, and with a few small solos that let individuals shine, it had a freedom that suited the young dancers perfectly.

Pointework has a habit of especially being a cause for concern with far too many students not ready for it, so it was also pleasing to see Shuang Yuan’s 9th-grade students impress in Ballet on Pointe (踮起腳尖跳芭蕾) by Ye Qui-feng (葉秋鳳), which again showed us what the students could do, rather than what they couldn’t. The largely neat, tight pointework was only let down by some unfortunate looking running on and off.

But for sheer unbridled fun, no-one got close to the youngest dancers on show, Yong Le’s 3rd and 4th graders in Wishes in the Wind (風中的願望) by Su Jia-xin (蘇家賢). Cute, exuberant and an absolute joy in every sense of the word.