Darkly beautiful pictures from Huang Huai-te for National Taiwan University of the Arts

Graduation performance, NTUA Performing Arts Center
April 27, 2019
2nd year annual performance, NTUA Studio Theatre 501
April 23, 2019

David Mead

The Perfect Bastard (完美混蛋), presumably a comment on the art form, but a somewhat unfortunate title nonetheless), this year’s graduation performance at the National Taiwan University of the Arts (NTUA, 國立薹灣藝術大學), was marked by the best pieces of dance I’ve seen so far this year, a restaging of Time Travel (時間旅行) by Huang Huai-te (黃懷德), first presented in 2014. It is, quite simply, terrific.

Featuring a cast of 38, no less, Huang never ceases to provide something interesting, something new. Darkly lit and with the sense of it all taking place is some distant void, it’s full of beautiful pictures. Superbly danced too. Groups form, break apart and reform elsewhere in the space. There are some super sculptural forms, one long snaking one in particular looking like a mythical multi-headed, multi-limbed being. Later, dancers collapse to the floor and rise. They cross in two lines, leaving different individuals isolated each time. Despite the numbers it never felt crowded, never felt overly busy. Even the end is a surprise: just one dancer left standing, a lone survivor. A fabulous piece that left you wanting more.

Time Travel by Huang Huai-dePhoto Lai Guang-bao
Time Travel by Huang Huai-te
Photo Lai Guang-bao

Ballet used to be so strong at NTUA but here was reduced to a very short snatch of Paquita. Perhaps understandable because, while there was plenty of brightness and smiles, anything involving a turn on pointe brought difficulties with pirouettes generally shaky and way off vertical.

The rest of the programme was given over to student created works, with plenty of inventiveness on show, even if a few pieces still needed a little careful editing. Much of the credit for that wide-ranging creativity must go to teachers for creating the atmosphere in which it can flourish. The works varied in style, with several showing a distinct tilt towards dance-theatre and semi-narrative.

When the Clouds Grow by Haung Zhi-kaiPhoto Lai Guang-bao
When the Clouds Grow by Haung Zhi-kai
Photo Lai Guang-bao

A personal favourite was more pure-dance oriented, though. When the Clouds Grow (雲起時), one of several works by Ollie Huang (黃致愷) featured some powerful Chinese-seasoned contemporary dance and great direction of the ensemble. It was also most musical, Emmanuel Séjourné’s Attraction for Marimba, Vibraphone, Percussion and Tape pushed it on a treat. Super costumes and designs too.

Huang also contributed two more theatrical leaning pieces: The Garden* (撒斯姆花園), about suspicion and misfortune, and The Last Supper (最後的晚餐). Set around a huge table, the latter considered a group of people who met there, but for who it is now time to say goodbye, and mused on what they will leave behind and where they will go. Given the context, it’s easy to see the table as a metaphor for university.

The Rising Haze by Shen Xin-yuPhoto Lai Guang-bao
The Rising Haze by Shen Xin-yu
Photo Lai Guang-bao

Home Sweet Home by Lin Li-ting (林立庭) looked at complicated family relationships, warmth and difficulties. A super opening neatly introduced everyone by showing preparations for a family photo, while later use of repetition emphasised certain elements. Music from Steve Reich’s Six Marimbas worked especially well.

The Rising Haze (冉) by Shen Xin-yu (沈心宇) featured plenty of pleasant patterns, the white-clad dancers reminiscent of light wood smoke gradually floating upwards.

Independent Thinking* (獨立思維) by Weng Zi-qi (翁子淇) rather appropriately showed plenty of student individuality, and even a dash of tap dancing, which must be a graduation performance first. But why not? Weng also contributed That Night, which mused on the shortness of happiness, and the Chinese dance Drums* (與鼓行).

Four days earlier in the university’s small black box theatre that doubles as Studio 501, Gèn (亘), a programme of ten short works by second year students was equally enjoyable.

NTUA 2nd year students in Overload by Hsu Rou-anPhoto Wu Yu-hsuan 1
NTUA 2nd year students in Overload by Hsu Rou-an
Photo Wu Yu-hsuan

Particularly impressive was the students’ willingness not to rush things and let ideas play out; to take their time and not be afraid of silence or pauses. And that’s how it should be. After all, when we look at a painting, we don’t just look at the paint or the ink, we look at the space, often white space, around it too.

The highlight of the show came in Hsu Rou-an’s (許柔安) Overload, with a darkly humorous take on Prokofiev’s Dance of the Knights from Romeo and Juliet. No Renaissance ball-goers here but a group of dancers dressed in colourful oversize nappy-like affairs, white shirts and colourful. It was brave but the dancers’ straight faces set against the comedic costumes worked a treat, as did the grandly circling hips and butts of Hsu’s choreography.

NTUA 2nd-year students in 1111111 by Guo Jue-kaiPhoto Wu Yu-hsuan 1
NTUA 2nd-year students in 1111111 by Guo Jue-kai
Photo Wu Yu-hsuan

Elsewhere, Guo Jue-kai’s (郭爵愷) very personal work, 1111111, straddled that vague line between theatre and dance. There was a lot of spoken word, but it almost felt like music at times, so closely was its intonation linked to the movement. It also rather cleverly featured an opening played twice. I also enjoyed Him Her* (他她) by Yeh Jin-cheng (葉晉誠), a light and bright modern ballet. Yeh and the choreographers of the Chinese dance pieces all showed an impressive understanding of how to present an ensemble, something students often find tricky.

Naturally, there were a few issues. One piece in particular was so overflowing with ideas and imagery that it became confused, there were a couple of endings where you could almost read ‘to be continued’, and some music editing could have been better. But the young choreographers are not even halfway through their course. The signs are promising.

Titles asterisked (*) are SeeingDance’s own interpretations based on the work and Chinese title. They may not be direct translations.