Next week M Dans (驫舞劇場), the small and amorphous contemporary dance company headed up by Chen Wu-kang (陳武康), will celebrate the third anniversary of its founding. Given its somewhat unconventional method of operation this is a remarkable achievement, and Velocity (速度), which will premiere this weekend at the National Experimental Theater, shows off the group's efforts to "keep it fresh" and to hold the audiences' attention as the world of contemporary dance spins madly into an unknown future.
The group was formed by a number of young dancers who wanted to do something different, free from the limits of contemporary dance. "We were tired of the stuff we were doing, the work of various 'teachers' ... , there was nothing that made you really want to participate," Chen said.
With Velocity, the group uses this system of loose collaboration to bring in ideas from all its members. The group collectively decided on the new production's theme. "I actually wanted to do something based on mammoths," Chen said, "but was totally overruled. Mammoths are really cool, and big, and extinct ... but anyway, eventually we decided we liked the idea of velocity."
Having settled on a theme, the group began exploring how the frenetic nature of contemporary society pulls people and things apart. There is evolution and there is progress, but there is also loss. Dancers use modified forms of origami to create the objects that progress brings. Walls are placed about the stage to create a space in which the dancers find themselves separated by the speed of their movements. Multimedia is used to represent the modern televisual experience. Elements of experimental theater, drama and mime are also part of the performance. What is conspicuously lacking is a specific cultural identity, and this is quite deliberate.
"The groups that have been successful overseas are mostly selling Chinese culture," Chen said. "They have an 'Oriental' label. They claim to have something exotic and mysterious. People say that dance is a common language, so why can't we put this 'Oriental' stuff aside. ... Of course we are Asian, but there is no need to be constantly making art that refers back to or comments on all this ethnic stuff."
Chen accepts that the "Oriental" stuff can look good, and acknowledges that it sells. But even though taking this line puts M Dans at a disadvantage in the international market, Chen is upbeat. "There's lots of fun to be had without resorting to all that 'Oriental' stuff," he said.
Chen wants to make dance something closely related to his own experience and those of the dancers he works with.
To do this, the troupe must have its own studio, a rare thing for a two-year-old dance company.
Games played a big part in the creation of Velocity, which sees M Dans caught on the speeding train of human history, unable to get off. It is rushing towards an unknown destination, which is just how Chen likes it, for only in this way can he "keep it fresh, and keep it fun."
Despite M Dans' initial success, the group is planning to change its name this year. "M Dans makes us sound like just another dance company," Chen said. "So we have decided to call ourselves Horse." The character for the group's Chinese name is a combination of three ideographs for a horse.
"Horse has so many interesting associations. It is a strong animal, then of course it's also a drug (heroin). There are associations of stud horses, with their virile strength, and also their wildness," Chen said.