Super student choreography in The Journey (旅程) by National Taiwan University of Sport (臺灣體育運動大學)

Metropolitan Hall, Taipei
April 2, 2019

David Mead

Springtime in Taipei is university dance department annual performance season. With training more akin to conservatoires, certainly when compared to universities, a high standard of performance is pretty much guaranteed.

First up this April at the Metropolitan Hall were out-of-town visitors from Taichung, the National Taiwan University of Sport (臺灣體育運動大學). The Journey (旅程) was a super collection of ten pieces of student choreography. As always, it was all fully mentored, but everything was well-constructed; every piece had a pleasing ending, often a bit of a problem; and not once did I find myself despairing about musicality or music being cut or faded out.

Dawn, dancing with Bach by Lin Wan-hsuanPhoto Chen Wei-sheng
Dawn, dancing with Bach by Lin Wan-hsuan
Photo Chen Wei-sheng

As is so often the case, the classical ballet came first. I do rather get the sense that the feeling is that ‘we need to do it, but let’s get it out of the way’; understandable if unfortunate. Ballet is usually the weakest of the dance disciplines studied in Taiwan and it is so unforgiving. Any flaws in technique are immediately apparent. It’s much easier to hide them in modern or contemporary dance. In Dawn, dancing with Bach by Lin Wan-Hsuan (林宛萱), the cast did just that. As usual, there were a few unsteady moments en pointe, but it made for a very pleasing opener.

There was lots of blackness of the very best sort in Dark (天黑) by Yea Yu-Hsuan (葉于瑄), which came with a strong narrative and a cast of just five; both very unusual for university shows. The setting, four chairs in a single pool of light, draws you in and adds to the taut drama. Somewhat enigmatically, a woman places a pair of shoes stage front before being killed by one of the four others, all in slow-motion.Characters quickly emerge: the timid, the strong. But it’s not long before the foursome breaks down, especially when the woman who was ‘shot’ wakes up and takes to take a hand in proceedings. But is it really the victim come back to exact their revenge, or is it conscience coming to the fore? Whichever, it’s as juicily dark as its title and hugely entertaining.

Dark by Yea Yu-HsuanPhoto Chen Wei-sheng
Dark by Yea Yu-Hsuan
Photo Chen Wei-sheng

Yea also presented the appropriately named Heartache (心痛的滋味), which sandwiched quirky humour for a large ensemble that included exaggerated actions and facial expressions, between a touching and somewhat sad opening and closing. There was a strong sense that the people one girl simply sat and watched were buried deep in her mind; from a world she has lost, maybe.

Elsewhere, I was attracted by the power of Engulf (噬者) by Huang Ting-hui (黃婷徽), which featured two dancers apparently picking on a third. There was more intensity in her Deep (深刻那時), which has the sense of a central woman remembering a lost relationship. Or is it dreaming of one she wants? Whichever, she is certainly very deeply lost in her thoughts. While there are moments when they are blurred and moments when they are clear, Huang never loses sight of the narrative. It was just a shame that a very lovely end is ignored before she introduces a clashing and short second piece of music.

Engulf by Huang Ting-huiPhoto Chen Wei-sheng
Engulf by Huang Ting-hui
Photo Chen Wei-sheng

Super designs were everywhere. Smoky Clouds (烟云騰天) by Tseng Li-shan (曾力珊) got the prize for the best hats of the evening, super black affairs which were set off wonderfully by the otherwise white costumes. I also enjoyed the swirling white dresses in Empty Flowers (空花·水月) by Liao Wen-yen (廖妏晏).

The performance closed on One time in Heaven (一次天堂), a large group piece by Yang Cheng-lun (楊正綸). Made as a sort of tribute to classmates, university experiences and the inspiration they have given, it has a lovely sense of wistful looking back. “Just remember that this is not the end” heard in the lyrics, most appropriate in an evening like this and a very touching way to round the evening off. One part of these students’ journey may be drawing to a close, but another is about to begin.