Bicyclists seemed to be everywhere at the National Theater this weekend, to mixed effect. The first time a bicyclist appeared in Cloud Gate Dance Theater's (雲門舞集) Nine Songs (九歌), there was a smothered laugh from the audience, given that he was interrupting the end of a ritual mating of the Sun God and a shaman priestess. But by the end of the show, the bicyclists have provided the link between past and present.
Nine Songs is more a series of tableaux than a unified work, and the second half works better than the first. The highlights remain the Homage to the God of the Clouds and The Goddess of the Xiang River.
Wu I-fang (吳義芳) never fails to stun audiences as the God of the Clouds as he strides about the stage balancing on the backs or shoulders of his two carriers. However, as impressive and strenuous as Wu's performance is, it would not work without Sung Chao-chiun (宋超群) and Wang chih-hao (汪志浩).
The masked Chou Chang-ning (周章佞) is the very embodiment of a water goddess. Off-stage fans gently blow the ribbons and skirt of her dress, their fluttering echoing the incredibly delicate and graceful bending and weaving of her arms, hands and body. To say that her movements were liquid would be an understatement. She was water itself.
Upstairs in the Experimental Theater, bikes appeared several times in M-Dans' (驫舞劇場, or Horse as they have renamed themselves) Velocity (速度). Chen Wu-kang (陳武康) rode for the longest period of time, but he was pedaling in place, an apt metaphor for a show that has moments of promise but in the end fails to satisfy.
There was some great solo work - especially Yang Yu-ming (楊育鳴), two of the duets were riveting and the one segment when all six men were on stage together worked terrifically.
The bit at the beginning when they transform the paper strewn around the stage into a variety of objects and activities: clothing, a campout, a man fishing, a barbecue, a toilet and a vacuum-cleaner is fun to watch but more suited for improv-theater.
Each of the company's members is a wonderful dancer and they work well together. I would have liked to see more group work, in fact, more dance and less games. This is a company with great potential, but they need to be bolder. They should be challenging their audiences, not just settling for entertaining them.
Meanwhile, Jose Carreras' performance on Saturday wasn't really a musical occasion. The Taipei Arena (臺北小巨蛋) is more suited to political mass rallies than classical concerts. The heavily amplified sound, though necessitated by the venue, was grating to the ears and Carreras himself is no longer in his prime. Proximity to celebrity was more the name of the game. But even then you couldn't be that close - with 15,000 seats, some 70 percent occupied, the celebrated Spanish tenor must have been just a spot-lit figure in the distance to many.
He sang through the pre-announced program, most of it surely unfamiliar to almost everyone (and there were no surtitles to help). The atmosphere was chilly, with no obvious rapport between artists and auditors.
But then the real occasion began - the encore game. Suddenly whole sections of the audience erupted into the cheering and foot-stamping supposedly required to bring the soloist back on stage. The whole thing, as always, had been carefully choreographed in advance. The orchestra had rehearsed the extra numbers, and Carreras' five seemingly reluctant returns to the stage were routine. Not, you assumed, until we'd had O Solo Mio would we be free to go home - and that turned out to be exactly what happened.