Thu, May 04, 2017 - Page 13 News List

The Dao of homework

U-Theatre brings its latest work, ‘Dao’ to the National Theater tonight for a five-show run. It is a return to the troupe’s glorious metaphysically based presentations of old

By Diane Baker  /  Staff reporter

The Zen drumming troupe U-Theatre returns to the National Theater in Taipei tonight with its latest production, Dao.

Photo courtesy of Lin Jin-chu

Zen percussion troupe U-Theatre (優人神鼓) returns to the National Theater in Taipei tonight for five performances of Dao (墨具五色), its latest production.

Years ago, a new show by the Muzha (木柵) District-based troupe would usually be launched at Taipei’s National Theater, but with new venues opening up throughout the nation, Dao’s world premiere took place at the National Theater Taichung on April 15, followed by shows in Kaohsiung last weekend.

Taipei may be third on the list, but fans have been eagerly awaiting the company’s return to its drumming, martial arts, meditation and mindfulness-movement roots, which they have largely gone without, at least in terms of National Theater shows, since 2011’s Beyond Time (時間之外).

U-Theatre founder and director Liu Ruo-yu (劉若瑀) said the company started working on Dao four years ago, about a year into her self-imposed local hiatus.

While the company continued to fulfill its international obligations during the rest period that she announced in May 2012, it did not mount a major production in Taiwan again until the musical Town of Gold (黃金鄉) in New Taipei City’s Jiufen District (九份) in December 2015, although it did give small shows as part of its traditional long meditative walks around the nation.

COLLABORATIONS

For Dao, Liu reached out to Taipei-born contemporary artist Ko Shu-ling (柯淑玲), also known as Ling Ko, who specializes in abstract ink and five-color watercolor “splash” paintings.

The company has often collaborated with other artists from different genres, ranging from US theater/opera director Robert Wilson for 1433 — The Grand Voyage (鄭和1433) in 2010, to German composer Christian Jost and Rundfunkchor Berlin with 2014’s Lover (愛人), which was performed at the National Theater last year as part of the Taiwan International Festival of Arts.

Performance Notes

What: Dao

When: Tonight, tomorrow and Saturday at 7:30pm; Saturday and Sunday at 2:30pm

Where: National Theater (國家戲劇院), 21-1 Zhongshan S Rd, Taipei City (台北市中山南路21-1號)

Admission: NT$500 to NT$3,000; available at NTCH box offices, online at www.artsticket.com.tw and at convenience store ticketing kiosks. While the two Saturday shows and Sunday’s matinee are close to being sold out, there are still seats available at all price options for tonight and tomorrow’s performances


Although she has been based in Seattle, Washington, for more than three decades, Ko’s paintings have been strongly influenced by her studies of traditional Chinese calligraphy and Buddhist meditation, so working with the very spiritually oriented U-Theatre would seem to be a natural fit.

Liu said yesterday she had long been attracted to Ko’s paintings, but did not want to use them as just part of a set or a backdrop.

“You need to feel their energy,” she said.

She said she spent a lot of time discussing how to use Ko’s paintings with multi-media artist Ethan Wang (王奕盛), who helped create some of Cloud Gate Dance Theatre’s (雲門舞集) stunning visuals, including those for Rice (稻禾) and White Water (白水), to form a connection between the artworks and the performers.

Wang ended up using a mix of rear projections, front projections and 3D techniques to make Ko’s paintings feel alive, blowing up the images and slowly moving them across the backdrop, making them appear to be pouring down like waterfalls or moving in the air.

The look is spectacular, but as Liu told reporters yesterday, it did not come cheap.

The troupe’s drumming master, Huang Chih-chun (黃誌群, Adan), said he was inspired by Ko’s paintings when composing the music for the new piece, which features plenty of large gongs.

LAO TZU AND CHUANG TZU

Like many of the company’s previous works, Dao is divided into seven sections. Each section examines a different aspect of the teachings of Lao Tzu (老子) and Chuang Tzu (莊子).

Liu said the first section is about Lao Tzu’s discussion of the shapelessness and emptiness of the universe at the beginning of time; part two is Chuang Tzu’s tale about a giant bird with a wingspan that covers the Earth; part three is from Chuang Tzu’s talk about perception, how we see a creature whose body appears different from ours, with the legs on top, and how we should stop thinking solely in terms of preconceived shapes.

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