Reflections on life: In Time You Will by Sun-Shier Dance Theatre

Streamed by the company
December 11, 2021

We all recollect things past, maybe memories of events, of people, or of how we once were. The older we get, the more of those memories we have. Often, they provoke a sort of sigh that might be of contentment, happiness, sadness or remorse. Whichever, they provide a sort of pause, a moment of space in our lives; a moment in which time seems to pause briefly.

In Time You Will (不易察覺的嘆息), the latest work by Chang Hsiu-ping (張秀萍) for Sun-Shier Dance Theatre (三十舞蹈劇場), builds on that while, inevitably, making references to ageing. With its cast of performers aged 20 to 60, who had a huge input into the creative process, it’s impossible not to see it as a sort of meditation on life, growing up, relationships and the generational divide.

Sun-Shier Dance Theatre in In Time You Will by Chang Hsiu-ping
Photo Lin Shou-cheng

We hear the older performers talk about life, about retiring and the freedom and relaxation that it brought. They look back, one telling us how she was obsessive about her hair, and was self-conscious about what others thought of her. They talk about changes in their bodies, how memory gets worse. One tells us how she uses sticky notes as memory joggers. Many moments bring knowing smiles as they relate to our own experience.

There is a lot of text, yet it never feels too much. At times, it almost works like music. The work is at its best when the dance emphasises the mood and feeling inherent in the spoken word; enough to connect, but without being literal. The opening section, ‘Look ahead, look back, stay in the moment… only pain will tell us…’ is a perfect example. A solo by Chang Chi-wu (張琪武) is full of feeling that’s emphasised by six other dancers, who form a sort of Greek chorus at the back. The mime that opens the section is significantly less effective, though.

This fluid shifting of age between the performers, which comes even more to the fore later, neatly emphasises connection, and that more bonds the generations that divides. Memories, are after all, something we all have. Looking back is something we all do.

Lin Yi-chieh (left) and Wu Pi-jung (singing)
in Sun Shier Dance Theatre’s In Time You Will
Photo Lin Shou-cheng

The whole cast are excellent but it’s the older performers who steal the show. Their accounts are wonderfully authentic. They sound so real because they are real. The dancers are accepting of their age, but also, one senses, determined that it will not diminish their lives, even if there’s a gently sorrowful feeling of, “it’s just not like it used to be”. But then, what is ‘old’ anyway? And, all the time, friendship is writ large.

The answer to the question in the title of the second section, ‘Is the aging body still capable?’, is clearly yes, if perhaps a little differently. The dance in a trio for three older dancers flows gently but pleasingly. Moments of humour pop up unexpectedly, as when Wang Zheng-fen (王正芬) lifts the leg of Wu Pi-jung (吳碧容) who leans on Chen Hong-chiu (陳鴻秋). With a bit of help she can still manage it! Later they give aching backs a reviving slap. The text reminds us they have other responsibilities including cooking and picking up the kids from school. Difference is acknowledged but accepted as they bring a particular maturity and depth to the movement. It could easily have become oversentimental, yet it’s all done with a beautiful light touch delicacy.

Among the other beautiful moments is Wu singing the timeless title song of the fourth section, ‘Farewell, it just wasn’t meant to be…’ (再會啦!心愛的無緣的人) by Xiong Tian-yi (熊天益), the inherent feeling this time brought to vivid life by Lin Yi-chieh (林依潔) as the others watch on.

At other times, the spoken work and movement diverge, like two different lines of thought. Sometimes they overlap, the action seeming like a delayed response to the text as it reminds you of something said a few moments previously. Sometimes the connection is sort of a sideways look, as when we hear someone musing about stretching out in bed, met with the dancer-chorus, on their backs, stretching their legs upwards.

Looking ahead, Chang is on record as saying she would like to revisit In Time You Will when circumstances allow, bringing the more of the older dancers together with the younger ones, and use more of the material from some of the retired community that participated in the original workshops for the piece. She hopes that will be able to happen in 2022, when more performances and a national tour are planned. I just hope the beautiful work she already has doesn’t lose something along the way.