With Small Nanguan (小南管), Lin Wen-chung (林文中) has crafted another gem for his WCdance (林文中舞團) company’s repertoire — a finely nuanced, yet playful melding of modern dance and traditional nanguan (南管) music. The company’s performances at the Experimental Theater this weekend opened the National Theater Concert Hall’s three-part 2011 New Idea Dance series.
Small Nanguan is not the first time Lin has incorporated nanguan into his work; he used a song in 2009’s Small Songs (情歌) alongside excerpts of pieces by Mexican-American singer Lhasa de Sela, Handel, Mozart and other music. However, the traditional Chinese musical form, with its slow pacing and complex musical structures, would not at first seem a likely choice for an 80-minute modern dance work.
Small Nanguan is the story of modern dancers learning about nanguan. It begins with a short black and white film shot by Lin (with English subtitles) in which he questions his dancers about what they know of nanguan — almost uniformly “pretty much nothing.” The second part of the film features interviews with several prominent nanguan masters as well as Lin’s mother, Tsai Li-hua (蔡麗華), whose academic career and work for her own Taipei Folk Dance Theater (台北民族舞團) have focused on preserving the dance heritage of Taiwan’s different ethnic groups. Lin dedicated the work to her.
The dancers get help from some professional nanguan musicians and singers, some who are with the Gang-a-tsui Theater (江之翠南管劇場), in learning to sing a nanguan song, and from guest choreographer Lin Ya-lan (林亞嵐), who teaches them the hand and arm movements, as well as the tiny-step walk used in nanguan opera. Lin Ya-lan was captivating to watch and has a beautiful singing voice.
Once again Lin Wen-chung confined his dancers to a small space — a wooden platform — but it echoed the small traveling stages that many Chinese opera troupes use.
Costume designer Tsai Yu-fen (蔡毓芬) deserves a hand for her interpretation of traditional musicians’ robes and for the dancers’ delicate white outfits that featured a basket-weave design.
WCdance begins a tour of Small Nanguan on June 2 at the National Taichung Library Chungsing Concert Hall (台中市中興堂) in Greater Taichung before heading to Greater Kaohsiung and Pingtung.
Low Mei Yoke (劉美玉), founder and director of Singapore’s Frontier Danceland, first approached Lin Wen-chung when she went looking for a Taiwanese choreographer to work with last year. However, their schedules clashed, so Low asked her contacts for another recommendation. She wanted a male choreographer to balance her female perspective and someone of a “younger generation,” and was given Hsieh Chieh-hua’s (謝杰樺) name.
The choice of Hsieh, who founded his own troupe, Anarchy Dance Theatre (安娜琪舞蹈劇場) last year, was a good fit. Their production, the hour-long 22.5 Minutes-Subconscious Indulgence (22.5分鐘的追覓), was intriguing from start to finish at the Crown Theater on Saturday night as part of the 16th Crown Arts Festival (第16屆皇冠藝術節).
Crown’s incredibly low (for a theater space) ceiling meant some of the lifts had to be reduced to prevent injuries, while Frontier’s resident choreographer and training master Albert Tiong (張詠翔) filled in for a dancer who couldn’t make the trip — something of a homecoming since he danced with Cloud Gate Dance Theatre in the late 1990s.