Revealing relationships: Beings by Wang Yeu-kwn

Reviewed from film
February 7, 2021

David Mead

Many performances have been cancelled due to COVID-19, even in places such as Taiwan, where some live shows have managed to go ahead with an audience. Beings (捺撇) by Wang Yeu-kwn (王宇光) was one such victim. The second work he has created for his Shimmering Production (微光製造) company, formed in 2019, it should have been on stage last May at the 12th Young Stars New Vision (新人新視野) programme sponsored by Taiwan’s National Culture and Arts Foundation. Due to the pandemic, he was left instead with a closed-door performance with few guests. That’s unfortunate because it’s a beautifully produced, superbly danced and thoughtful thirty minutes of theatre that deserves a wider audience.

Wang Yeu-kwn (left) and Lee Yin-ying in BeingsPhoto Chen You-wei
Wang Yeu-kwn and Lee Yin-ying
in Beings
Photo Chen You-wei

The opening scene may be brief but it draws you in immediately. A figure, head bowed so initially appearing headless, walks slowly upstage. It’s dark. Very dark. And silent.

A blackout takes us to Wang carrying a huge burden in the shape of a massive sheet of white paper. As it seems to shift and morph of its own accord, different images come to mind. A head, insect wings, a shell. In the paper is actually Lee Yin-ying (李尹櫻) who emerges like a butterfly might from a chrysalis.

The inspiration for Being actually came from the Chinese character 人 (person) and the connection between the two supporting calligraphy strokes (the literal Chinese translation makes a direct reference). In doing so, Wang also reveals a relationship between the two performers, and between the paper and ink. Never hurrying, every scene is given time to imprint itself on the brain. And it does look beautiful.

Together Wang and Lee stand, cheek to cheek, bodies close. It’s intimate and trusting. The sound of a 1950s recording of Patti Page singing Redd Stewart and Pee Wee King’s ‘Tennesssee Waltz’ comes as a surprise. Still inseparable, the couple dance a close quarters duet full of innovative touches: arms stretch out, hands flick and push down their own backs. The timing is immaculate as they mirror or match one another. There are moments when, if you clicked a camera shutter, they might look like a four-armed being. The swapping of T-shirt from him to her is cleverly built in. That there is a relationship, a back story, is clear, even if precisely what is more enigmatic.

Back in silence, Lee wraps Wang in the paper before drawing a picture of him (and a dog and flower) on it. Questions about the relationship between people and objects arise.

Wang Yeu-kwn with Lee Yin-ying in BeingsPhoto Chen You-wei
Wang Yeu-kwn with Lee Yin-ying in Beings
Photo Chen You-wei

The dance that follows matches perfectly the long-breathed phrases of the cello in Messiaen’s ‘Louange à l’Éternité de Jésus’ from Quartet for the End of Time. It is a slow-burning meditation. The brush strokes of the Chinese character are often visible as the dancers support each other. As previously, they are inseparable.

Joanne Shyue’s (徐⼦涵)lighting is absolutely integral to the work throughout but plays an especially important role here. Light bounces off the paper and glints off the dancers’ bodies. It creates dark corners and shadows on the floor. Almost seeming to be in black and white, the scene has the special beauty that only monochrome can give. Together, the music and dance are mesmerising and deeply affecting. Powerful and gentle, both are full of reverence as they seem to stretch infinitely into time.

Beings by Wang Yeu-kwnPhoto Chen You-wei
Beings by Wang Yeu-kwn
Photo Chen You-wei

In many ways, the musical choice is incredibly appropriate for today. It was composed and first performed by Messiaen and three fellow prisoners in a German prisoner of war camp in January 1941. Inspired by the Book of Revelation and the message of hope it carries within, it signals Messiaen’s vision of peace and light that will come after even the darkest of times.

It ends thoughtfully too. Wang is subsumed by the paper. When Lee unravels it again, he is gone. As the ‘Tennessee Waltz’ returns, all that is left is the ink and memories. Objects, people, events. Always relationships.