For Taiwanese choreographer Ku Ming-shen (古名伸), dance, like life, is all about making connections, making contact. Who you meet in life and when you meet them has an influence on who you are, what you are and who you will be.
She is celebrating those connections this weekend as well as the 15th anniversary of her dance troupe with performances at Taipei’s Novel Hall, set around the numbers three, six and 10: three “generations” of choreographers, six works and 10 dancers.
“The group is composed of three sets of choreographers. I’m the oldest one. Su An-li (蘇安莉) and Mei-li [Li Mei-kuang (黎美光)] have been with me for more than 10 years. Wang Pei-chun (王珮君） and Chu Sing-leung (朱星朗) have been with me for about six years,” Ku said.
Ku is probably the best-known proponent of Contact Improvisation (CI) dance in Taiwan. CI began as a dance form in the early 1970s in the US as an exploration of the physics of motion and contact between bodies. Dancers incorporated moves from other disciplines, such as gymnastics and martial arts, adding rolls and falls to dance lifts and jumps.
The emphasis is on sharing balance from the point of contact — whether that point is another body or an object such as a chair or a wall — and following impulses. Most of the early pieces revolved around duets or solos, but over the years large jams have become a common feature of CI workshops or festivals. It may look freeform and loose, but practitioners must be constantly aware of themselves and their partners, both to further the piece and to prevent injuries.
Ku learned about Contact Improvisation after quitting her job teaching dance at the Chinese Cultural University and going to New York to study on a grant in 1991 and 1992. She has spoken often of the immediate connection she felt to CI and she founded her company in 1993 to promote improvisation.
What: Ku & Dancers
When: Tonight and tomorrow at 7:45pm
Where: Novel Hall (新舞台), 3-1 Songshou Rd, Taipei City (台北市松壽路3-1號)
Tickets: NT$450 to NT$1,500; available at the box office or by calling (02) 2816-9675
Additional information: May 16 at 7:30pm at the Little Theater of Yuanlin Performance Hall (員林演藝廳), 99, Ln 2, Chungcheng Rd, Yuanlin Township, Changhua County (彰化縣員林鎮中正路2巷99號); tickets NT$350. May 24 at 7:45pm, Sun Yat-Sen Hall of National Sun Yat-Sen University Art Center (高雄中山大學逸仙館), 70 Lienhai Rd, Kaohsiung City (高雄市蓮海路70號); tickets NT$450 and NT$600
“The company has always had two parallel directions — improvising and set pieces,” Ku said in a telephone interview on Tuesday. “But I thought it important for this anniversary to choose a fancy space for a celebration. But once we decided on a venue, it did affect the thinking for all the pieces.”
“I didn’t tell them [the other choreographers] what to do. I told them to do their own thing. We are aesthetically different, though of course there is some melding,” she said.
“An-li worked with a musician on her piece (Letter From Attica). It has got its own flavor; it’s cutting-edge. She made it for her grandmother who died a few years ago. The past and present are joined and yet are missing each other in this space.” Ku said.
“For the past couple of years Pej-chun and Chris [Sing-leung] have used multimedia and improvisation. The use of multimedia [in performances] is a global trend. It is an amazing tool. You can create something no one imagined before. I started in 2000 to use it because of some people I met, some people who were really good in this area. Chris has an engineering background, he is our computer person, so when he does his own work he will grab this [tool],” Ku said.
Technology has been a big boon to the creative process in many fields. Ku said real time software has been especially useful, because everything happens in the present time. As a choreographer, Ku said the idea of being able to use time creates an extra dimension for her work.