Steaks are not the only things in danger of being overcooked in dancer/choreographer Eddie Lin’s (林春輝) Barbecue At Home (萬家香); family ties and relationships are heated to the fracturing point.
Jade & Artists Dance Troupe’s (肢體音符舞團) performance at the Experimental Theater left the audience in a much more somber mood than Lin’s previous work for the company, as evidenced by the almost shell-shocked silence that greeted the performers at the post-show discussion session on Saturday night. More than a third of the audience stayed for the talk, but only three people asked questions and that was only after extensive prodding. Choreographers and dancers are usually peppered with questions during such sessions.
Tension builds from the very first scene, titled Prologue: Whisper, when Lin and the six female dancers — Chou Yen-lin (周燕琳), Lin Yu-hua (林妤樺), Chen Wan-lin (陳琬琳), Chen Yi-ju (陳逸茹), Huang Chih-ying (黃之穎) and Tsai Chia-yu (蔡嘉祐) — gather around a dinner table, all clad in black tops, leggings and diaphanous skirts. What starts off as a friendly gathering soon devolves into finger-pointing and angry gestures. There is a nice bit of floor work for all seven, with lots of shoulder rolls, before the segment ends with a solo by Lin.
After a quick costume change into casual clothes off-stage, the second segment, Who’s the chef tonight?, switches to the outdoors, with cutouts of a tree and smoky grill where various cuts of meat are being cooked, watched over by a harried father (Lin Yu-hua) as mom (Chou) tries to keep four children in order from her place in the kitchen. However, the segment turns into a rather slapstick battle of wills between mom and a doddering grandmother (a hunched-over Eddie Lin with a cane and grey wig) over the cooking.
A brief interlude sees the grandmother reminiscing about being a young bride, getting pregnant and seeing her son grow up and marry and there is another scene where son and wife are happy before the grind of daily life, four children and living with an aging, forgetful parent wears them down. The Winner Is, segment is all about sibling squabbles and quarrels between mom and mother-in-law or husband and wife, with the scenes shifting from inside the home to the outdoor grill and back.
The tensions between husband and wife are on full display in the fourth segment, The Besieged Castle, which, despite its air of pathos, features some nice, tango-like duets that evolve into an ensemble dance with the grandmother sandwiched between the husband and wife, and two children behind each parent trying to hold the couple together. However, fights keep tearing the family apart as the music builds with dramatic sweeps of violins and horns better suited for a movie soundtrack.
The dancers briefly disappear as a saccharine video montage of street scenes of happy couples and parents with children, set to Over the Rainbow by Jake Shimabukuro, is played against the back wall. The sweetness is only tempered by the fact that the piping and electrical boxes on the wall distort the pictures, but it was hard to tell if that was the intended effect or a fortuitous coincidence.
The piece ends with the family united again by the barbecue grill, enjoying a full moon.
Barbecue At Home encapsulates the strains of modern family life, but at 90 minutes it is too long. Some of the squabbling could easily be cut to make it a tighter piece. However, the dancers all did well, and judging by the audience’s reactions, the piece obviously hit home for many.