The ArtsCross — DansCross performance at the Taipei National University of the Arts’ (TNUA, 國立臺北藝術大學) Experimental Theater on Saturday night was a wonderful cross-cultural showcase that introduced Taipei dance fans to some new faces, gave Taiwanese choreographers a chance to try a different look, and reaffirmed the talent — and polished stage presence — of the school’s dance students.
The show was the culmination of a three-week intensive exchange project between the ResCen of Middlesex University, the Beijing Dance Academy (BDA, 北京舞蹈學院) and TNUA, with the ResCen having selected three “emerging choreographers” working in England, BDA sending three established choreographers from its staff and the TNUA organizers selecting four Taiwanese choreographers of varying experience, though two of them — Lai Tsui-shuang (賴翠霜) and Yu Yen-fang (余彥芳) — have done most of their choreographic work abroad. Ten BDA students also took part, along with two dozen or so TNUA students, including a few from Hong Kong, the US and elsewhere who were in Taipei to take summer classes at the school.
The focus of attention for the academics, researchers and staff involved in the project is the creative and rehearsal process and the intercultural dialogue involved. For the dancers, it is the chance to work with one or more choreographers whose movement vocabulary and working style may be very different from what they are used to. The audience can only judge by what takes place onstage.
Three weeks from auditions to performance is no time at all — even to produce a 10-minute work — and most of the choreographers used a bare stage, with a few projections and basic costuming. When they did use props, the danger factor was upped exponentially — dancing balanced atop the rails of ballet barres in Avatara Ayuso’s Typhoon or hurling themselves onto, into or off mattresses in Century Contemporary Dance Company (世紀當代舞團) director Yao Shu-fen’s (姚淑芬) Dream Hatched III & One-Sixth.
Two factors immediately divided the 10 works so that even if you had not looked at the program beforehand, you could, for the most part, guess which country the choreographer had come from.
BDA’s team — Zhang Jianmin (張建民), Zhang Xiaomei (張曉梅) and Li Shanshan (李珊珊) — came from its “Chinese national” division (as opposed to Chinese classic dance, ballet or modern), and their pieces had the most structured, almost old-fashioned look, as opposed to the improvisational feel common to the others (not to mention the fun quotient).
Three of the Taiwanese pieces were distinctive either because of their props — Yao’s mattresses, a favorite of hers — or the use of dialogue, either between dancers or as monologues to the audience, although Khamlane Halsackda from the UK also had talk.
Other than that, it would have been difficult to tell which were created by a Taiwanese — Yao, Lai, Yu or Bulareyaung Pagarlava (布拉瑞揚) — and which by a member the UK contingent: Ayuso, Halsackda and Alexander Whitley.
Trying not to be biased, and with much to commend many of the works, I felt the four Taiwanese pieces were the best of the lot. Bula’s Uncertain/Waiting was the hit of the night, both for its sheer exuberance and because it was so different from his previous work. He’s done funny before, a little. Segments in Ode to Joy, Chapter I or 37 Arts are two examples, but both those pieces end on much, much darker notes.