Toru Shimazaki’s Shattered Moon shines in the University of Taipei’s annual performance

Metropolitan Hall, Taipei
April 21, 2024

Last of the university dance department annual performances at the Taipei’s Metropolitan Hall, the Body Wave (身·浪潮) programme by the University of Taipei (臺北市立大學舞蹈學系) proved to be the most appealing. In contrast to other university shows, only five pieces were performed. But five longer pieces, thus allowing time for choreographic ideas and themes to develop, and giving more opportunities for solos, duets and smaller group moments. Of course there were plenty of group moments but it was all a stark contrast to the relentless ensemble dance generally seen elsewhere. That all were danced excellently goes without saying.

That university shows should feature Toru Shimazaki’s choreography is a bonus. That it happened twice in a week puts one in heaven. The shortened 25-minute version of his Shattered Moon (碎月), originally created for Dance Forum Taipei (舞蹈空間舞團) in 2023, was not only the highlight of the programme, but one of the best works I’ve ever seen in a Taiwanese vocational school show. And I’ve seen a lot.

The work is the Japanese choreographer’s response to the isolation and anxieties felt during the Covid pandemic. It’s a reflection of how those who survived the desolation of the times, and how people supported and connected with each other, and came through.

University of Taipei students in
Shattered Moon by Toru Shimazaki
Photo Ho Photography

Shining throughout, high to the right, is a supermoon. A beautiful image, it’s ‘shattering’ metaphor for what was, what was lost, and what cannot be taken back.

Shimazaki’s choreography ebbs and flows throughout, making full use of the stage. The opening sees the performers dance to a changing soundscape of beats and mechanical noise. It’s unsettling. But as the Max Richter cuts in, and while the landscape may appear broken and barren, connection and community comes to the fore.

There are highlights aplenty. Two side by side duets by Ho Ting-chen (何亭蓁) and Hsieh Kun-chang (謝坤璋), and Yao Fang (姚方) and Wang Sheng-hao (王聖皓), are gorgeous. Bodies glide and flow over and around one another so smoothly as Shimazaki really gets to the heart of the music. Two more that follow by Liu Si-yu (劉思瑜) and Chang Yu-cheng (張宇承); and Tseng Ching-chia (曾靖家) and Chuan Chun-yu (權純宇) are just as good. Shortly after, there are some fabulous momentary tableaux among the maelstrom of movement when one dancer rises above the others.

The end is simply stunning, that moon now paired with a cascade of what one assumes are the remains of its shattered body. If we are talking metaphors, the world that was. Or tears. It flows near hypnotically, like a waterfall, the grains (actually Styrofoam balls) meandering gently as they do so.

And so to the final duet (again by Ho Ting-chen and Hsieh Kun-chang) amid the bodies of the rest of now fallen cast. To say it’s beautiful and tugs at the heartstrings would be an understatement. It was enough to bring a tear to the eye.

University of Taipei students in Heterotopia by Tung I-fen
Photo Ho Photography

The second half opened with Heterotopia (身體異托邦) by Tung I-fen (董怡芬) to a new score by Liu Tzu-chi (劉子齊) of Bai-Shiang Music Studio (白象音造工作室). It’s colourful in every sense. With the cast dressed in streetwear and trainers, it comes with a very youthful vibe and very much paints a picture of the world of the younger generation.

‘Heterotopia’ is a term used to describe certain cultural or institutional spaces that are somehow disturbing, intense, incompatible, contradictory or transforming. Heterotopias are worlds within worlds, mirroring and yet upsetting what is outside. And, in a way, that’s precisely what is delivered.

It is often intense. Some of the movement is seemingly incompatible. Yet it comes together and works superbly. While very much a collective dance, there’s plenty of scope for individuality, and not only in costume. Among the best parts are those that see the dancers in a line, walking back and forth, one or more dropping out for mini solos before being re-absorbed as the line washes past once more.

University of Taipei students in Heterotopia by Tung I-fen
Photo Ho Photography

It’s difficult to explain why, but most works in university annual performances feel like student pieces. It’s something to do with the structure and getting bodies on stage feeling paramount. Like Shattered Moon, Heterotopia felt different. It just grew on me more and more.

Best of the three before the interval was In Time by Xu Zhe-bing (許哲彬), a piece about time and relationships. After opening with an excellent male duet in silence that grabbed you from the off, danced by Hsieh Kun-chang (謝坤璋) and Chen Jian-kai (陳健凱), an ensemble section similarly comes without accompaniment, save for the music made by bodies and limbs thumping against the floor. A series of individual dances follows as the work becomes structurally seriously interesting. Ensemble, duet, trio, a sextet, all separated by short blackouts, all letting us really see the dancers and what they can do as individuals. But while all difference, all are cleverly interlaced with little choreographic moments repeated, thus giving the work a coherence, flow and sense of whole.

University of Taipei Students in Autumn Whispers by Lin Wei-hua
Photo Ho Photography

Body Wave opened with Autumn Whispers by Lin Wei-hua (林惟華), a pleasing if technically unchallenging classical ballet piece that sees the cast as falling leaves dancing in the breeze and the sun. At its best in ensemble unison moments, it does suffer from a lack of contrast, however. And while there appeared to be some excellent duet and solo moments, it was a shame that they were inevitably drowned by the ensemble.

Intoxication (陶醉) by Hsiao Chun-ling (蕭君玲) opens promisingly, the scene suggesting a camp a night, its fire glowing in the background. As its title suggests, it takes its idea from being drunk, but how that state induces a sort of freedom.

University of Taipei Students in Intoxication by Hsiao Chun-ling
Photo Ho Photography

Dance has always evolved and changed so perhaps it’s only natural that Chinese folk dance rooted choreography, at least in university performance, seem to be becoming markedly more contemporary, classical Chinese female dance apart. Intoxication certainly comes with a pretty hefty dose of modernity. Movement-wise, much of it seemed to consist of the dancers walking back and forth, upper bodies bent over, arms swinging freely. Like someone drunk, they kept coming back for more. The students danced with great control, and the patterning and use of the ensemble was excellent, but it quickly started to feel rather repetitive.