Streamed from Taipei
October 23, 2022
Time moulds all of us in all sorts of ways. As much as we try, we also cannot help but reflect on times past, people past. Although we may put them to one side, we also cannot unload memories, whether happy or sad, full of joy or remorse. Some will always weigh heavy, but they are what they are. The clock cannot be turned back.
In 2021, Shier Dance Theatre (三十舞蹈劇場) artistic director Chang Hsiu-ping (張秀萍) brought all that to bear in In Time You Will (不易察覺的嘆息), a sort of nostalgic look back at things past laced with varying degrees of contentment, happiness, sadness and remorse.
In Time You Will 2.0 sees her revisit the subject of time, developing and extending that first version into a two-act work with around two-thirds of the 90-minute piece being newly developed material. Divided into twelve sections, it is perhaps best described as a collection of dance essays. Some overlap, some do not, some do not hang together neatly, but that underlying theme is never too far away.
The opening emphasises community. As the cross-generation cast walk around and across the stage, it could be a street scene. While they are clearly a group, hints of individuality shine through as they make eye contact with the audience. It also feels a little playful, almost celebratory, as if saying, “This is us.”
The dancers flip easily between the different demands of the choreography, whether technically-oriented, quirky or everyday pedestrian. The mimed moments do sit less comfortably, however, both gesture and facial expression tending to be overdone. Some moments are deeply thoughtful, some more light-hearted, the darker sections tending to be divided by something a little easier.
Among the quirkier sections is ‘Stand on your own two feet’. Largely floor-based with legs and feet in the air, and for the ensemble, parts of it are reminiscent of a young animal being taught (or perhaps persuaded) by its mother to do just that. But, in a sort of double-sided meaning, it can also be read as a look at the various difficulties met in life that people have to overcome in their own way.
Although large groups are generally used well, In Time You Will 2.0 is at its most effective in those sections with fewer dancers, or at least where the focus is just on one or two individuals. In those sections in particular, the dance tends towards an expression of the feelings and emotions of the situation, rather than a literal or narrative depiction of it. The accompanying spoken text is very well delivered throughout.
The second section, ‘Suicide Note’, is one such. It’s also one of the best. One of the few sections with a single clear story, three dancers look back at growing up. Chen Ge-zhen (陳革臻) and then Chung Chia-jung (鍾嘉容) give voice through text and movement to the experiences of a girl, the subject of violence meted out to her by her brother, played by Chang Chi-wu (張琪武). Beautifully and sensitively done, it is hard-hitting even before it gets to self-harm. “I started to write a suicide note,” we hear, although the end of story is left to our imagination.
There is plenty more looking back, each glance to the past evoking different feelings, and sometimes revealing hidden ones. After the interval, ‘It really didn’t matter’, for example, is essentially a collection of vignettes told by different dancers, things that happened, that went wrong but that, as the title says, really are of no consequence. Except, of course, that they are, else we wouldn’t be talking about them.
Throughout, the mature performers invariably bring a calm intensity to the performance. Their dance doesn’t always have quite the smoothness of the company regulars, but they bring other things: a sense of the everyday, the ordinary, the authentic and the real. You can see their greater experience of life in their faces as they bring maturity and depth to the stage. As in the first iteration of the piece, In Time You Will 2.0 would not be the same without them, and when they get the chance, they steal the show.
In ‘Ageing bodies are still capable’ (in the 2020 version this was framed as a question), Wang Zheng-fen (王正芬), Wu Pi-jung (吳碧容) and Chen Hong-chiu (陳鴻秋) again delight in a scene about dancing and how they can still do it, even if it takes a bit more effort and maybe isn’t quite what it once was. Full of gentle humour and friendship, the moment could easily have become sugary and sentimental. That it doesn’t is testament to the threesome and director Chang.
Wu shines again when she sings the title song of the last section of the first half, ‘Farewell, it just wasn’t meant to be…’, the feelings contained in it embodied powerfully by the superb Lin Yi-chieh (林依潔) as the others watch on.
Elsewhere, there’s a super largely unison, gesture-driven sequence with the performers sat on chairs that brings a smile, not least because it is so reminiscent of Pina Bausch.
The show ends with a bit of a sigh before launching into a final upbeat, faster moving section. Given the mood of what has gone previously, it does feel a little out of place, however, and the dance never quite manages to keep pace with the music.
In Time You Will 2.0 coincides with the 25th anniversary of Sun Shier Dance Theatre. Given the funding and other difficulties faced by most companies in Taiwan, that’s quite an achievement. But perhaps that’s what happens when you consistently produce interesting work. Long may they continue.