I had never seen a science-fiction movie danced before — although this was not a gap in my experience that I felt I had missed before Saturday’s matinee performance of Synapse by Dancecology (舞蹈生態系創意團隊) at Taipei’s Huashan 1914 Creative Park.
However, as a child, I did watch a lot of Saturday afternoon TV featuring reruns of sci-fi movies made in the 1950s, such as Invasion from Mars (1953), complete with ethereal tonal music. A recurrent theme in such movies is the question, sometimes left unresolved, of whether the main character is actually living the events or trapped in a nightmarish dream. I felt that way on Saturday.
In the gloom of the second-floor auditorium at the park’s Fruit Wine Building the audience was seated against and atop the stage at one end of the room. The rest of the space was filled with white debris and trash, with curtains hanging in the back and another large piece of cloth suspended off the right wall in the middle of the room. There was a small monitor just below the ceiling and an old trash-covered TV set on the floor near the seats. I had a fleeting sense of deja vu, for weeks earlier Horse’s (驫舞劇場) photography exhibition Dancing on Paper had been held on the building’s first floor in an equally trash-decorated room.
Photo Courtesy of Dancecology
Dancecology’s works center on environmental theater, with a focus, as the program notes said, on the “ecological concepts of circulation and symbiosis,” especially “recycling” in ecosystems. Obviously mankind’s waste was going to be a key element of Synapse.
The performance began, as much sci-fi does, with flashbacks of war — the TV showing grainy clips of German troops marching in World War II, a glimpse of Adolf Hitler, footage of Imperial Japanese Army soldiers and a mushroom cloud of an atomic bomb blast.
Frenchman Claude Aymon was the first performer to appear, clad in a white sleeveless tunic and pants, salvaging items from trash piles before retreating behind the cloth drape, which served as his den. Once he was in the den, piles of trash began to move — with an arm, a leg or a foot occasionally appearing. This scenario was repeated several times with four trash creatures (or larvae as I wrote in my notes) emerging only when Aymon was in his den. Each time the larvae moved around a bit more, wiggling on their stomach, backs or sides. Eventually all this movement cleared the center of the floor of trash, though it was unclear if the larvae were supposed to have eaten the stuff or if the cleanup was a by-product of the wiggling.
About 15 minutes into the piece, one of the men sitting in front of me pulled out his cellphone so he could read his program by the phone’s screen light, apparently trying to figure out what was going on. I wanted to tell him not to bother. The one thing I learned from watching all those sci-fi movies as a child was that you had to stick with the show until the end, no matter how corny, scary or bad it was, to make sure the humans survived; otherwise you would end up dreaming about the story for weeks.
Of course at some point Aymon had to bump into the larvae and he came to the aid of one, carefully giving it liquid from one of his salvaged drink cans. Eventually all four larvae were able to stand on their feet, though they spent some time bumping into each other before — with Aymon’s help — developing better coordination. At one point Aymon and the four Taiwanese dancers lined up in the den, backlit, with a horizontal line of blue sparks running through their bodies — perhaps the “spark motivating the body’s synapses” mentioned in the promotional material.
There was a nice bit of ensemble dancing just before the end — which came when the four larvae turned their backs to the audience and slowly walked toward the curtains at the end of room, followed by Aymon with arms upraised (possibly in benediction). Aymon turned to face the audience as the room went dark — except for the pulsing red network of veins/nerves projected onto the large drape.
One redeeming feature to Synapse came from costume designer Chen Shaw-chi (陳紹麒). When the four larvae first emerged they were garbed in what looked like layers of plastic bags over a white long-sleeved bodysuit. Halfway through the piece they had managed to shed their outer “skins,” revealing the sheer bodysuits, each one differentiated by loops and lines of white straps or clusters of gauzy fabric. By the end all the excess detail had been stripped away, leaving the sheer suits with a clearly delineated spine in the back.
Was Aymon sending the four creatures off to a brave new world? Would they would be doomed to repeat mankind’s destructive ways, or had they learned something from consuming all that trash? There was no way of telling, but at least I won’t be kept up at night wondering.
Since its launch in 2014, the Taiwan Season has increasingly become a “must-see” at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe. So, when this year’s three-week Fringe became an early casualty of the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic, Chen Pin-chuan (陳斌全) was determined that the Taiwan Season must continue in some form. Chen, director of the Cultural Division of the Taipei Representative Office in the UK, says that he and Taiwan Season curator and producer Yeh Jih-wen (葉紀紋) had been thinking of ways of growing and adding value to the season anyway. The crisis and the cancellation of the live performances brought those ideas forward as
The 22nd Taipei Arts Festival (臺北藝術節) opens tonight with three productions, a slightly scaled-down pandemic version that seeks to keep its tradition of big ideas, challenging programs and international connections alive and moving forward in an increasingly uncertain world. The theme of this year’s festival is “Super@#S%?” — as good a term as any when descriptives and superlatives seem not only inadequate, but somewhat irrelevant in a world where so many people cannot imagine being able to return to theaters, either as performers or audience members — they are too worried about having a job and their health. Technically, however, it is
Shuanglianpi (雙連埤) is both a Hakka outpost and a place of great ecological interest. The conjoined body of water from which it gets its name is the centerpiece of the 17.16-hectare Shuanglianpi Wildlife Refuge (雙連埤野生動物保護區). No waterways of significance fill or drain this scenic lake in Yilan County’s Yuanshan Township (員山鄉). During the 1895 to 1945 period of Japanese rule, the colonial authorities — struggling to secure Taiwan’s foothills — encouraged Han people to settle in areas adjacent to indigenous communities. Around 1910, a 49-year-old Hakka pioneer called Tsou Cheng-sheng (鄒成生) from what’s now Taoyuan decided to begin farming at
Wild Sparrow (野雀之詩) is simple and extremely slow paced, told through the eyes of Han (Kao Yu-hsia, 高於夏), an introspective, shy grade schooler who lives with his great-grandmother in the verdant countryside. Han has a fascination with sparrows, which are either flying high in the sky or trapped in cages and nets, providing a constant metaphor throughout the film. In the most ironic scene, a man catches the birds just to charge people to set them free again, taking advantage of Buddhists who engage in the ritual of “releasing” animals from captivity. Han takes a badly injured sparrow home and