The winners in the dance world this year were the audiences, who got to see an amazing variety of talented performers both local and foreign. However, dance lovers — and producers — were losers as well, because there was often too much of a good thing, with three or more shows competing against each other in a weekend. An explosion of festivals only added to the din toward the end of the year.
Among the standouts were some familiar faces in new — for Taipei — roles, a cross-cultural collaboration and a few big names from abroad.
The absolute best of the year came early on, when Lin Mei-hong (林美虹) brought 15 of her dancers from Tanztheater des Staatstheaters Darmstadt, where she has been artistic director since 2004, to perform Schwanengesang (Swan Song) at the National Theater in March as part of the 2010 Taiwan International Festival.
The Yilan-born Lin has maintained her ties with Taiwan’s dance world as director of the Lanyang Dance Troupe (蘭陽芭蕾舞團), which she danced with as a girl. However, her productions for that company would never prepare you for what she has accomplished in Germany. Schwanengesang is a tour de force by an artist at the height of her creative powers. She turned a tale of love, obsession and death into a thrilling piece of dance theater that more than redeemed that genre from the overblown caricature it too often becomes.
In May, Novel Hall Dance hosted British dancer Akram Khan for the fourth time, but it was the first time he has performed the kind of classic Kathak pieces that gained him fame. His Gnosis was a tantalizing, mesmerizing glimpse into a very different world.
In June, Taipei Dance Forum (舞蹈空間) moved into the National Theater for a wild, wickedly funny collaboration with the all-male Japanese troupe the Condors, who more than lived up to their prankster billing. Moon River (月球水) gave each group a chance to show their respective strengths and still try something new, with the video clips alone worth the price of admission.
Wang Tzer-shing (王澤馨) pulled off another stunning International Ballet Star Gala in August, keeping hope alive for Taipei’s beleaguered balletomes. Silvia Azzoni shone in John Neumeier’s The Little Mermaid with partner Alexandre Riabko, while Sarah Lamb and Rupert Pennefather showed a very modern angularity in Christopher Wheeldon’s Tryst before leaving the audience breathless with Frederick Ashton’s poetic Thais Pas de Deux.
The first weekend of the National Theater Concert Hall’s Dance in Autumn series proved to be the capstone for the year, with two programs — Israel’s Batsheva Dance Company on the big stage with Deca Dance 2010 and Ho Hsiao-mei’s (何曉玫) new troupe, Meimage Dance (玫舞擊), in the Experimental Theater.
Batsheva was a tour de force of glorious feet-pounding energy interspersed with bouts of quiet intensity that left you hungering for more of artistic director Ohad Naharin’s work. It was also great fun to see recent Taipei National University of the Arts (國立臺北藝術大學) graduate Lee Chen-wei (李貞葳) more than holding her own with the rest of the company.
One of Lee’s former professors, Ho also left her audiences hungering for more with her Woo! Barbie (Woo!芭比), a visually arresting and emotionally disturbing look at the role of women in contemporary Taiwanese society.
While it will probably be years before Taipei will get to see the Tanztheater des Staatstheaters Darmstadt or Batsheva again, local choreographers and producers such as Ho, Wang and Dance Forum’s Ping Heng (平珩) have consistently provided quality shows against enormous odds, and will hopefully continue to do so in the years to come.