Young Stars, New Vision. New dance in Taipei

Experimental Theater, National Theater, Taipei
April 29, 2023

With the aim of providing opportunities for choreographers to show their talents, in 2008, the National Arts Association launched its Performing Arts New Artists and New Vision Creation Project, usually referred to as ‘Young Stars New Visions’ (新人新視野). The latest and fifteenth edition brought dance, physical theatre and circus to the National Theater’s black box stage in three, very different, 30-minute works.

Is a Cyr wheel still a Cyr wheel after it has been dismantled and reformed into a different shape? That was the thought that came to mind towards the end of After by Yang Shih-hao (楊世豪), a thoughtful, innovative and intriguing piece.

Yang Shih-hao in After
Photo Lee Hsin-che

It’s quiet. A recorded soundtrack does come later but, for now, save for the gentle hum of the air-conditioning, the only accompaniment is self-made as he rubs his hands along his wheel, almost tenderly, as if ‘talking’ to an old friend. It’s plain that it is full of memories. In time, the wheel itself makes music too, rumbling as it spins, thundering as it comes to a halt.

After more traditional Cyr wheel work in the middle of the piece, Yang riding his wheel skilfully, things get really interesting when he starts to take it apart. You wonder why. And what is he going to do with the second dismantled wheel that has so far been sitting unused upstage?

There’s a moment when he stops, apparently wondering what he has done. But it feels not so much a dismantling, a full stop, as a new beginning. And the new shape does have a curious beauty, looking rather like ∞. A symbol that things go on, maybe.

Created by Chang Ya-yuan (張雅媛), A Corner (喂!你好……我叫高敏) looks at a trio hypersensitive people and their discomforts.

Shen Le (with Chen Ya-chu on his shoulder)
in A Corner by Chang Ya-yuan
Photo Lee Hsin-che

Again, it’s a slow start. The threesome are closely spaced but continually shift each other out of the way. For a while it feels academic. Movement for movement’s sake. But slowly and surely, one starts to see relationships emerge.

Those connections soon take firmer shape. Shen Le (沈樂) and Chen Ya-chu (陳雅筑) seem to be close. She often throws herself at him, clinging on. He drags her along. Is it an argument? Glimpses of several, perhaps. Is it a relationship that isn’t quite working but that neither can leave? Or am I looking for a narrative that isn’t really there?

Meanwhile, Gabriel Yang (楊宇政), for long periods just walks around the space, looking lonely and cut out of what is happening. It’s hard not to see him as child victim of his parents’ dysfunction.

The three dancers are excellent throughout, really drawing you in. Faces and bodies speak volumes. The clarity of movement and depiction of feeling are top notch. And it’s all driven perfectly by music designer Luo Qi-xuan’s (羅棋諠) super soundtrack.

My only doubt is the bookending of the dance by green lasers that cut through the darkness. At the beginning, one expanding beam looks like a shard of glass decorated by slowly shifting smoke. It’s quite a pleasing effect, but its connection with the rest of the piece is unclear.

Liberator, created by Tai Chi-lun
Photo Lee Hsin-che

Liberator (大解脫者) created by Tai Chi-lun asks how you heal the pain and grief of losing a loved one, and whether peace can be restored through the power of religion and ritual. A big plus is the super live music, played on stage by Chen Wei-kai (陳威愷) and Luh I-jye (陸以潔).

The opening is striking. Death comes early, heralded by a tolling drum in the music. A bag of rice empties on a woman’s head, then rises heavenwards like the soul leaving the body.

Dancers Chang Yu (張瑀), Liao Chin-ting (廖錦婷) and Chen Yi-ting (陳怡廷) paint pictures of grief clear enough. Backs are arched, chests out as if wailing. There’s a lot of falling down and helping up. A more energetic section is backed by a fiery projection. But there do seem to be a lot of ideas employed, perhaps too many. It does starts to feel a little confused, although perhaps that, in itself, is a reflection of how one feels after losing someone close. Peace does come eventually, leaves falling gently on the trio.