May 11-22, 2020
Twelve new works, one a day for twelve days, each just five minutes or so. That was Northern Ballet dancer George Liang’s (梁秩傑) idea for the Quarantine Project, all streamed live on his Project Sau.té Facebook page. All were performed by fellow Taiwanese dancers, some temporarily back in non-locked down Taiwan, although even there, most performances have been on hold.
The project proved an agreeable journey. That the technical level was high from the off was no surprise. What was fascinating to watch however was how the works got increasingly innovative, probably partly a result of the choreographer-dancers watching and taking inspiration from each other.
There is a big difference between a film of someone dancing and a ‘dance film’, and while some of the presentations definitely fell into the first category, it was good to see some of the choreographer-dancers taking the opportunity to embrace the extra potential the camera presents.
Seen in his kitchen, Liao Chien-shun (廖健舜) of Company Wayne McGregor was the first to consider the possibilities, bringing ultra-close-ups of his hands into his piece. Set in his kitchen, his dance gave a sense of working with and around an imaginary or invisible large object. Elsewhere, real objects in the shape of kitchen utensils and plants found their way into the dance and the kitchen worktop was used to conceal and reveal his body.
Lu Mei-yun (盧美云) and Chen Guang-xuan (陳廣軒) of the Tanzkompanie St. Gallen in Switzerland later took things up several notches, although they did have the advantage of filming in advance. The best film of the twelve, their duet came in three sections, the first filmed from overhead. The sharing of what looks like a chocolate dessert quickly shifts into a fast-paced and remarkably cleanly danced exchange. When they move under the table, there’s a neat moment when she appears with his legs then vice-versa. A second section filmed front has a decidedly contemporary Latin feel before it closes with the camera now looking on a dance of face masks. Lu and Chen even choreographed their introductions.
Another duet of sorts came from Tang Yun-wen (唐筠雯), a student at National Taiwan University of the Arts (國立臺灣藝術大學). Her partner came in the shape of a terracotta-coloured torso dummy that she proceeded to quite literally punch and kick taekwondo style having previously circled it dynamically. A change of mood saw her move behind it, her legs becoming the dummy’s as she as manipulated the sleeves of a jacket it was wearing to give him arms. I suspect it all had a more of a narrative than most, although I have not much idea what it was.
Yang Chih-yuan (楊致遠), a student at the Rambert School, took advantage of available outdoor space, moving to his balcony where he took the opportunity to experiment with lighting. A strip light on the floor behind him created an effective corona effect that sometimes, hid, sometimes accentuated limbs. Bonus effect came courtesy of sheet lightning and rain as Typhoon Vongfong brushed the city. Included in the dance were some super deep pulsing backbends.
The pieces frequently had the feel of improvisation about them. Freelance dancer and graduate of Taipei National University of the Arts (國立臺北藝術大學), Hsu Pei-jia (徐珮嘉) was among those who made no secret that was the case, explaining she wanted to challenge herself. Making things extra tricky was the fact that the music was only composed by a friend the day before. In a dance that indeed oozed freshness, twisted, turned and collapsed across the floor and her bed with some super moments of suspension. As with the Yeh’s opener, the clarity of movement was accentuated by dark clothing against white walls and white tiled floors.
The opening solo by Yeh Chia-fen (葉家芬), a student at the École Supérieure de Danse de Cannes Rosella Hightower made good use of the walls and doors of her room as supports in a dance that featured many shoulder isolations. Later, Pai Yen-yu (白顏毓) would make the best of an even tighter space in an improvisation of lots of twists and turns.
“The eyes are the window of the soul,” wrote Max Beerbohm in his 1911 satire on Oxford undergraduate life, Zuleika Dobson. It’s something students often need reminding of. Dance is an expressive art and it’s so often the eyes that lead the way, speaking first. So it was great to see just that in NTUA student Lee Yi-han’s (李翊涵) piece, especially a section in the middle where she looked and pulled away several times, that repetition also serving to emphasise the moment.
Back to props, independent choreographer Andy Lin (林則安), who also works with B.DANCE started swaddled in a duvet, back to the camera. A dance of emergence and disappearance, he slowly came out of his hiding place like an animal coming out of hibernation of metamorphosis. What followed featured lots of flowing and quite beautiful folding and unfolding arms and deep pliés to an unusual electronic score, before he retreats again and is reswallowed by the duvet.
Another NTUA student, Liao Yan-yeong (廖炎勇), gave us props and lighting effects galore, amaging to cram in a stepladder, fan, tea-lights and, best of all, a traditional-style mask that lit up. Blacked out windows with just one other light against a wall providing illumination made for an interesting shadowy effort, although the low light came at the cost of film quality, the piece suffering as a consequence.
TNUA student Liao Chien-yao (廖健堯) also showed something different in a contemporary dance meets hip-hop solo on and in front of his sofa. While popular among the country’s youth, hip-hop is rarely seen in professional dance in Taiwan, and certainly not in major theatre, where it is still somewhat looked down on.
The season rounded off with Chiu Chih-han (邱芷涵), a postgraduate student at the University of Taipei (臺北市立大學). I particularly enjoyed the opening section of her dance, slower than most, and I felt more thoughtful. As electronic sound played, she held her head as if trying to block the unwelcome noise out. Bells, which would produce a reaction in the movement, later added a calmer note. A more dynamic second section made much use of the walls of an archway in her home.
George Liang, Project Sau.té and indeed the dancers must be congratulated for pulling together such a varied selection of work, but walls are not partners, living rooms are not stages, and my desk and computer screen is not a theatre, at least not as most of us would want to see most of the time. Zoom is also no way to properly teach dance, even if it is the best we have right now. I also read Chiu’s second section as something of a desire to be free and again able to dance as we wish. It’s something we need to be fighting for because, while acknowledging the terrible cost the virus has had worldwide, I do worry about the immediate future for our art, dancers and students left in limbo, and companies. It can come. It must come.