Tussock Dance Theater: Eclipse by Wu Chien-wei

Shuiyuan Theater, Taipei
April 20, 2024

In 2023, Tussock Dance Theater (野草舞蹈聚落) artistic director and choreographer Wu Chien-wei (吳建緯) presented a solo, Eclipse (全蝕), at Shinehouse Theatre’s Want to Dance Festival. Much taken with it, I commented that it would be fascinating to see where he took it. Almost exactly a year on, it’s now a sixty-minute male duet.

Eclipse explores various metaphorical meanings of the concept: the obstructions, obscurations and failures we face in life, and how we respond. Resistance, dormancy, assault and are all visible. But ‘eclipse’ also involves being temporarily obscured. That happens too as dancers Tsai Po-hung (蔡博鴻) and Nicholls Kris Dao (曹智) constantly intertwine and dislocate elements of meaning and narrative that appear.

The audience is greeted by two striking and slightly disturbing sculptures. Downstage and right at the front, both look like the ashen remains of human bodies. Upstage in the distance lies what is clearly a sole ‘real’ person.

Tsai Po-hung in Eclipse
Photo Darwin Lin

When Dao emerges from one of the sculptures, the ‘ash’ falling away rather more like broken plaster, it’s like a new born creature breaking out of a pupa. Or perhaps a snake shedding its skin and appearing born anew. Having edged his way forwards, Tsai watches and follows. There’s a sense of uncertainty, of curiosity but also suspicion, almost as if he recognises this other may be a threat.

As they move round each other, eating up the stage space. The dance and the dancers are fabulous. To say they are committed barely does them justice. As music and dance intertwine, each seems feeding off the other, feelings and emotions are writ large. Everything is given time to play out. Nothing is rushed. But equally, nothing feels too long.

Tsai Po-hung and Nicholls Kris Dao in Eclipse
Zhang Xiao-xiong

Wu’s ever-engaging choreography is full of changes of rhythm and tempo. Moments of athletic grace sit comfortably alongside more edgy, broken interludes. Enigmatic moments from the original solo including one dancer miming sewing his arm, and later his lips, remain. At one point, things come to a head. There’s a whirlwind of movement. A bit of a fight. The power of the scene, as always, aided by John Adams’ very dramatic music.

For much of the time there is very little physical contact. But then, out of nowhere, suddenly Eclipse is rammed with contact, flying lifts and other supports.

For all the metaphorical nature of the piece, for all the fact there is no linear narrative means that precise intentions are sometimes obscure, Eclipse is one of those works that makes you want to find meanings. Wu and the dancers leave little doubt they are there, but also leave plenty of space for personal interpretation.

Whether intended or not, I found it difficult not to see it all as taking place in a post-apocalyptic world, the dance essentially a fight for survival. A situation of wary suspicion. But also a one where both recognise that they need each other. Can it be any co-incidence that it was conceived during the three years of the Covid pandemic and the restrictions?